Boron can be found in electric vehicles, vital military hardware, wind turbines, solar panels, satellites, and more. The mineral – already listed as a national strategic mineral – is important for the United States’ economy, climate strategy, and national security. However, the U.S. Geological Survey has yet to include boron on the list of “critical minerals,” which the Energy Act of 2020 defines as a non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic or national security of the U.S. and which has a supply chain vulnerable to disruption. The lack of critical mineral designation could hamper the domestic production of boron, but that may be changing soon as discussed below.
California’s Mojave Desert is believed to have the world’s largest known new boron deposit. A mine in the region, known as Fort Cady, has an estimated mineral resource of 120 plus million tons of the type of borate, colemanite, which accounts for 90% of the mineral used globally. Fort Cady also has a large source of lithium (see our earlier post on lithium’s potential), which is an important element for batteries and electric vehicles. Fort Cady further benefits from proximity to an interstate highway, railroad, deep-water port, high voltage power line, gas line, and approved water infrastructure.
An industry leader in boron sourcing and processing is set to begin mining at Fort Cady soon, with small scale mining operations set to begin by the end of this year and large scale production by 2025. However, mining boron deposits is very costly and time consuming. Listing boron on the list of critical minerals would help alleviate such issues by giving stakeholders access to extensive government funding, incentives, and partnerships.
The U.S. currently produces approximately 20% of boron globally. Turkey is the leader in mining boron while China processes and sources the majority of the mineral’s composite materials for military purposes. A complicated geopolitical situation – see the conflict in Ukraine – has threatened the supply chain of boron and other important minerals. Because of a threatened supply chain and dependence on foreign countries, the U.S. Department of Defense has recommended that the defense industrial base establish a second U.S. source of boron carbide, which makes the Mojave Desert a prime location.
As the mineral’s necessity increases, and supply chain threatened, stakeholders have begun lobbying Congress and the Biden administration to list boron as a critical mineral. Fort Cady has already received a critical infrastructure designation from the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and stakeholders hope a new designation for boron itself is on the horizon.
Boron’s application to national security, the climate, and the economy is already known, and others interested in the mineral’s potential should closely track its “critical” listing status.