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7. Ensure reliable supplies of raw materials

The geoscience community provides the knowledge, experience and ingenuity to meet society's demands for natural resources, environmental quality and resilience from hazards. Here we outline the critical raw material needs of the nation and the world at the outset of the twenty first century and provide policy guidance to grow the economy while sustaining the Earth system.

What Is The Need?
What Are The Policy Recommendations?
Additional Resources

 
What Is The Need?

Minerals help to sustain life in numerous ways. They are natural or added supplements in food and drink. Minerals are essential in just about any product used in daily life from calcite in toothpaste to silicon in computers and solar panels. The global demand for metals, such as aluminum, copper, gold, and platinum, has led to a steep rise in their commodity prices. Rare Earth elements (REEs) are increasingly critical to evolving technologies for use in fuel-efficient vehicles, electronic devices, and many military applications. The antiquated methods of extraction and processing of REEs, together with the near monopolistic production of REEs in China, leaves the U.S. vulnerable to national security and economic risks. The U.S. needs to invest in R&D to advance exploration and mining approaches for non-fuel minerals that are environmentally responsible and economically sustainable in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Even current domestic mining production needs to plan for supply and demand fluctuations with the help of geoscientists. Aggregate, including sand, gravel, crushed stone, slag, or recycled crushed concrete, is an essential construction material as well as a critical ingredient in paint, paper, plastics, glass, other household products, and in medicines. Aggregate production accounts for more than one-half of the volume of all domestic mining. More than one-half of all the aggregate produced in the U.S. in the 20th century was mined in the last 25 years of the century (Figure 7).

The foundation of agriculture and healthy ecosystems lies within the soil. Soil is a critical biozone that must be understood and sustained in order to maintain a robust agricultural system and a healthy ecosystem while dealing with other uses such as biofuel production. Soil filters and stores water and promotes our fresh water resources. There is an immediate need for greater understanding of the effect of multiple uses on soil sustainability.

All of these raw materials must be wisely managed and efficiently prepared for their final use. Geoscientists are needed to locate these materials, assess their quantity and quality, cleanly and efficiently manage their extraction or use in place, reduce byproducts or excessive waste, and assess strategic needs for low-supply critical materials that are in high demand or relate to national security.

 

raw

Figure 7: The U.S. Geological Survey tracks supply and demand for natural raw materials, including non-fuel minerals such as aggregate. Graph shows aggregate production in the United States with projections to 2020, based on a growth rate of 1 percent for stone and 0.5 percent for sand and gravel.  Data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

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What Are The Policy Recommendations?

Given the increasing need for raw materials in our daily lives, the geoscience community suggests the following national policy directions.

  • Increase support for mineral assessments of the nation and the rest of the world conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, state geological surveys, and other geoscientists.
  • Support the completion of soil survey and ecological site descriptions on the more than 195 million acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs/Natural Resources Conservation Service, and others.
  • Increase investments in geologic mapping and data preservation in support of assessments, exploration, and production of raw materials, led by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with state geological surveys and other geoscientists.
  • Map, analyze and plan for multiple uses of surface and subsurface resources, such as carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery or carbon sequestration associated with former fossil fuel extraction.
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    Additional Resources

    Links to references, supplementary, and/or updated information.

    Full Report (PDF)

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    With a burgeoning human population, rising demand for natural resources and a changing climate, it is critical to more fully integrate Earth observations and Earth system understanding into actions for a sustainable world.

    Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

    Posted on October 17, 2012; Last Updated on October 17, 2012

     


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