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Minerals: What Are They and What Makes Them Critical?


  • Carol A. Dahl

    (Division of Economics and Business, Payne Institute for Public Policy, Colorado School of Mines)


Minerals and materials are the backbone of industrial productivity and might. With annual sales in the billions, they are key inputs into fulfilling the goal of lifting billions out of poverty and putting us all on a cleaner more sustainable trajectory. This paper provides background information on these crucial markets. I provide some background on the size of markets by tonnage and sales value, market evolution and recurring cycles of scarcity scares for critical minerals. Recent concerns have spawned dozens of government studies to determine which materials are critical in meeting our goals. From reviewing these studies, I consider factors that make materials critical --- high economic and/or strategic value coupled with supply insecurity, which might be geological, technical, political, social, and economic. By comparing studies, I come up with a global list of critical materials that make it on the list of many of the existing studies. I summarize what we know about demand and supply elasticities for minerals and use an example of space mining to illustrate their use.

Suggested Citation

  • Carol A. Dahl, 2020. "Minerals: What Are They and What Makes Them Critical?," Working Papers 2020-04, Colorado School of Mines, Division of Economics and Business.
  • Handle: RePEc:mns:wpaper:wp202004

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    5. David Humphreys, 2015. "The Remaking of the Mining Industry," Palgrave Macmillan Books, Palgrave Macmillan, number 978-1-137-44201-7, December.
    6. Radetzki, Marian & Eggert, Roderick G. & Lagos, Gustavo & Lima, Marcos & Tilton, John E., 2008. "The boom in mineral markets: How long might it last?," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 125-128, September.
    7. Radetzki, Marian, 2006. "The anatomy of three commodity booms," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 56-64, March.
    8. Angus Deaton & Alan Heston, 2010. "Understanding PPPs and PPP-Based National Accounts," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(4), pages 1-35, October.
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    10. David Humphreys, 2018. "In search of a new China: mineral demand in South and Southeast Asia," Mineral Economics, Springer;Raw Materials Group (RMG);Luleå University of Technology, vol. 31(1), pages 103-112, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Carol Dahl & Ben Gilbert & Ian Lange, 2020. "Mineral scarcity on Earth: are Asteroids the answer," Mineral Economics, Springer;Raw Materials Group (RMG);Luleå University of Technology, vol. 33(1), pages 29-41, July.

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    More about this item


    Demand; Supply; Mineral Industry Structure; Critical Minerals;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • L1 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance
    • L71 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Primary Products and Construction - - - Mining, Extraction, and Refining: Hydrocarbon Fuels
    • L78 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Primary Products and Construction - - - Government Policy
    • M14 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration - - - Corporate Culture; Diversity; Social Responsibility
    • Q31 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - Demand and Supply; Prices
    • Q33 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - Resource Booms (Dutch Disease)

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