Critical minerals are important to our everyday lives. They are used to develop components of many modern technologies, including smart phones, medical applications, and more. They’re also vital to the manufacture of clean energy technologies that provide affordable, reliable energy without producing harmful emissions. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) is committed to helping the nation increase its domestic supply of these critical minerals and materials, which are essential to the way we live, to America’s economic growth, and to realizing our net-zero greenhouse gas future.  


What are Critical Minerals and Materials?

Critical minerals and materials, which include rare earth elements, are a group of elements with unique magnetic, heat-resistant, and phosphorescent properties that have an essential function in the manufacturing of a product. 

The U.S. Geological Survey has identified 50 critical minerals   including commonly recognized elements such as aluminum, graphite, lithium, magnesium, and nickel. 

Why are Critical Minerals and Materials Important?

Critical minerals and materials are vital for a wide range of industries, including aerospace, health care, and defense. They are also key inputs to many clean energy technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicle batteries, and energy storage technologies.   

As we work to advance toward a clean energy and industrial future, the need for critical minerals increases. Currently, more than 80% of our nation’s supply of critical minerals comes from foreign sources. The United States currently imports more than half of its consumption of 43 of the 50 critical minerals and metals, with no domestic production for at least 14 of these critical minerals. By developing a strong domestic supply of critical minerals, we will reduce our dependence on other countries, create high-wage American manufacturing jobs, and support communities across the country that have long depended on mining and energy production. 


How is FECM Developing a Domestic Supply Chain of Critical Minerals and Materials?

As a part of our efforts to accelerate the domestic production of critical minerals, FECM’s Division of Minerals Sustainability is funding projects that will support the extraction, recovery, and refining of critical minerals and rare earth elements from unconventional and secondary sources, such as coal and coal byproducts, produced water from oil and gas production, coal-related waste streams (e.g., acid mine drainage), and other waste streams from the extractive minerals industry. 

Since January 2021, we have invested over $41 million in 26 critical minerals and materials projects across the United States. This includes the Carbon Ore, Rare Earth, and Critical Mineral initiative, which is made up of 13 projects in traditionally coal-producing communities that will advance the recovery of rare earth elements and critical minerals from domestic basins.  

Most recently, in April 2023, we selected projects in West Virginia and North Dakota to receive $16 million in federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support the development of America’s first-of-a kind critical minerals production facility. The project teams will develop cost estimates and schedules for the design, construction, and development of economically viable processes to extract, separate, and produce rare earth elements and critical minerals from the nation’s vast quantities of mining wastes. When built, the facility will help us demonstrate how America can meet the growing demand for clean energy technology. 

Collectively, these investments, in addition to other efforts across the Department of Energy, mark a step toward repositioning the United States as a leader in the responsible extraction and production of critical minerals.  

Learn More 

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