Why in the news?

  • India-Australia has decided to enhance its partnership in the field of projects and supply chains for critical minerals.
  • Australia has confirmed that it would enact A$5.8 million to the 3-year India-Australia Critical Minerals Investment Partnership”.

What are Critical Minerals?

  • Critical minerals are elements that are the constructing blocks of necessary modern-day technologies and are at threat of supply chain disruptions.
  • These minerals are now used everywhere from making computers, batteries, mobile phones, electric vehicles and green technologies like solar panels and wind turbines.
  • Based on sole needs and strategic contemplation, different countries develop their own lists.
  • Such lists basically include graphite, lithium, cobalt, rare earth and silicon which is a major mineral for creating computer chips, solar panels and batteries.
  • Aerospace, communications and defence industries also depend on variables such as minerals as they are used in manufacturing fighter jets, drones, radio sets and other analytical equipment.

The contrast between Rare earth elements and critical minerals

  • Although currently, no U.S. Government-wide definition exists, broadly speaking, if a vital sector of the economy requires a mineral in order to function, that mineral would likely be deemed “critical".
  • Rare earth elements are hardly the only critical minerals. They’re not even the only minerals critical to the high-end technology sector.
  • Another mineral vital to the functioning of your smartphone is gallium, a soft, silvery metal. Without gallium, the semiconductors that power smartphones and data-centric networks would not be possible.
  • Unlike, rare earth, gallium is not a common metal in the Earth’s crust, but it does occur regularly alongside aluminium in a mineral known as bauxite.

Why is this resource critical?

  • As countries globally, scale up their transformation towards clean energy and digital economy, these critical resources are mains to the ecosystem that ignites this change.
  • Any supply shock can adversely jeopardize the economy and strategic autonomy of a country over-dependent on others to obtain critical minerals.
  • But these supply risks exist due to sparse availability, extending demand and complex processing value chain.
  • Multiple times the complex supply chain can be disturbed by militant regimes, or due to politically unsteady regions.
  • They are severely important as the world is fast transforming from a fossil fuel-intensive to a mineral-intensive energy system.

What is China ‘threat’?

  • China is the globally largest grower of 16 critical minerals.
  • China alone is accountable for some 70% of the global production of cobalt and rare earth elements.
  • The level of concentration is even higher for processing operations, where China has a firm presence across the board.
  • China’s share of refining is around 35% for nickel, 50-70% for lithium and cobalt, and nearly 90% for rare earth elements.
  • It also handles cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, from where 70% of this mineral is generated.
  • In 2010, China hung sparse earth exports to Japan for two months over a territorial dispute.

What are countries around the world doing about it?

  • The US has moved its focus on expanding domestic mining, production, processing, and recycling of critical minerals.
  • India has formed KABIL or the Khanij Bidesh India Limited to ensure the mineral security of the nation.
  • Australia’s Critical Minerals Facilitation Office (CMFO) and KABIL recently signed an MoU targeting to ensure the reliant supply of critical minerals to India.
  • The UK has uncovered its new Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre to study the further demand for and supply of these minerals.

Way Forward

  • Mining can be done with a focus on achieving more environmentally and socially responsible operations.
  • There are examples across the globe of responsible mining practices, and from them, we can draw some lessons.
  • We can see how responsible mining means avoiding damage to key fish and wildlife resources, and how rolling back current environmental laws or removing existing protections on public lands would be a step backwards.
  • We can apply these lessons to the mines of the future and ensure policies provide a balance between mining and the protection of our environment.
  • Collecting and sharing data each step of the way is a proven strategy for successful collaboration among mining companies, community stakeholders and agencies.
  • That means providing data on environmental performance and complying with independent reviews.