The United States is completely reliant on imports of tantalum, which is a commonly used element in electronics, to meet its domestic consumption for economic and national security needs. A new U.S. Geological Survey report illustrates the dramatic change of the international sources of primary mined tantalum over the past 15 years.
Tantalum possesses unique material properties that make it particularly well suited for use as a capacitor in sophisticated electronic circuits in everything from smartphones to defense applications.
Tantalum is named as a “conflict mineral” under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act; this act requires companies that use tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold to perform due diligence on their supply chains to determine whether these materials were sourced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or adjacent countries. Tantalum is also widely viewed as a critical mineral because of the impact a supply disruption could have on important applications in electronic systems. Consequently, it is one of the mineral commodities tracked by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency as part of its mission to maintain the National Defense Stockpile.
As illustrated in the chart below, primary mining of tantalum has undergone a major geographic shift from the year 2000, when supply was dominated by Australia and Brazil, to the current situation where supply is principally from the Democratic Republic of the Conga, Rwanda, and other African nations. Global supply has migrated from countries characterized by low governance risk, industrial mining practices, and supply chain transparency to countries characterized by high governance risk, artisanal methods, and a lack of supply chain transparency.
Sources of tantalum produced from 2000-2014
“Tantalum occupies a special niche among metals as a result of its position at the nexus between conflict and critical minerals,” said Steven M. Fortier, director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center that produced the recent report. “The dramatic shifts in primary mine production of tantalum over the past 15 years is a textbook example of why the USGS plays such an active role in collecting, analyzing and disseminating information on mineral commodities of importance to the U.S. economy and national security.
To learn more about tantalum visit the Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015 webpage.