The US military is almost entirely dependent upon China and Russia for a metal used in many military applications, such as explosives and armor-piercing bullets. The metal is antimony, and China currently owns 53 percent of the world's supply. However, it processes over 80 percent of antimony ore through contracts with other producers. The US's last source of antimony, the Stibnite mine in Idaho, ceased operations in 1997.
It isn't just the military that relies on antimony, though it does appear insane to import the key element in manufacturing modern military munitions from your most likely adversary; the private sector is also heavily reliant on the metal.
For example, consider its usage in the high-tech sector, where it is a key ingredient in semi-conductors, circuit boards, electric switches, fluorescent lighting, high quality clear glass and lithium-ion batteries. No antimony, no iPhones. No hi-definition TVs. No modern kitchen appliances, all of which make use of digital circuitry. Oh, and that car you’re thinking about buying? Sorry.
Now, consider this: There can be no “energy transition” without adequate supplies of antimony. That thick, heavy glass used in solar panels? It’s made with antimony. Those 300 to 700 foot-tall windmills that sporadically produce electricity? Made with antimony. Antimony is a key element in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, as mentioned above, but even more crucial is the fact that it is integral to the development of the next-generation liquid metal batteries that, as Ecclestone pointed out during the webinar, hold the key to truly scalable energy storage for wind and solar power.
This issue has hit the front burner of Capitol Hill. The House Armed Services Committee is investigating the status of the Defense National Stockpile, which is charged with maintaining a strategic reserve of rare minerals. Our stockpile and the infrastructure to operate it will largely cease to exist by 2025 unless urgent action is taken.
Crap like this simply validates the idea that we are ruled by fools and buffoons. Congress has nearly sold off the stockpile, according to Defense News, " over the past several decades to fund other programs."
The stockpile was valued at nearly $42 billion in today’s dollars at its peak during the beginning of the Cold War in 1952. That value has plummeted to $888 million as of last year following decades of congressionally authorized sell-offs to private sector customers. Lawmakers anticipate the stockpile will become insolvent by FY25.
“A lot of what happened is Congress just getting greedy and finding politically convenient ways to fund programs that they weren’t willing to raise revenue for,” said [Massachusetts Democrat Seth] Moulton.
These sell-offs have included 3,000 short tons of titanium, used in building military airframes, and 76 million pounds of tungsten ores and concentrates, used in military turbine engines and armor-piercing ammunition. They have also included more than 2 million pounds of tantalum, used in electronics, as well as 26 million pounds of cobalt and 62,881 short tons of aluminum.
Time and again, we run into situations where it is obvious that national security is not a priority of Congress or the Defense Department. We've "offshored" most of our semiconductor industry. We've placed a, in my view, stupid and short-sighted emphasis on electric vehicles when we depend on China for the raw materials.
Somehow, if a war breaks out over Taiwan, I don't think the Chinese will be selling up the material we need to make ammunition.