Minerals Critical to Developing Future Energy Technologies, Their Availability, and Projected Demand

Gao ID: EMD-81-104 June 25, 1981

When GAO was asked to identify minerals critical to developing future energy technologies, their availability, and projected demand, it found that no Federal agency collects data in a form that can be used to show how much of any given mineral goes to the energy industries or to project demand for minerals by the various energy technologies. Further, a capability for providing valid, reasonably reliable projections of demand for and supply of minerals by the energy technologies had not been developed within either the public or private sector. Therefore, GAO , in conjunction with a laboratory, developed a methodology to evaluate projected energy-related demand for nonfuel minerals. This methodology modified and interlinked two accepted computer models to provide projected demand for 25 nonfuel minerals in 5-year intervals to the year 2000 under four technology scenarios.

The projections indicated that implementing a national energy program to replace or supplement conventional sources with those that are either renewable or available on a scale sufficient for centuries could require large increases in the supply and availability of certain nonfuel minerals. While the scenarios evaluated required an average of between 17 percent and 23 percent of total projected U.S. demand for the 25 minerals to the year 2000, the percentage for each mineral varied sharply. Demand for these nonfuel minerals by the conventional technologies remained relatively constant. Conversely, demand by the alternative technologies varied from 8 to 15 percent. Physical exhaustion of world mineral resources did not appear to be a problem through the remainder of this century. World reserves also appeared to be adequate despite the increased demand generated by the alternative energy technologies. Nine of the minerals identified appeared to be both strategic and critical to implementing a national energy program, in that the United States is vulnerable to contingencies that might either seriously disrupt supplies or cause sharp increases in price; implementing a national energy program may intensify this vulnerability. However, U.S. import reliance is not synonymous with vulnerability and does not necessarily present a high risk to the U.S. economy or a national energy program. Each mineral may have to be analyzed and evaluated on its own merits before comparative analysis can be performed.

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