Iron to make steel – far and away the greatest proportion, by weight, of every U.S.-made car – comes from mines in Minnesota and Michigan. 240 pounds of aluminum comes from either recycling or imported ores and concentrates, because the U.S. has no domestic production of bauxite, the only ore of aluminum. Smaller in volume, other elements are nonetheless critical components of modern vehicles.
- Copper – on average, a third imported from Chile, Canada, Peru.
- Lead – probably mined in Missouri or Alaska
- Zinc – mined in the U.S., refined overseas
- Manganese – 100% imported from Gabon, South Africa, China
- Chromium – mostly imported from South Africa, Kazakhstan
- Nickel – mostly imported from Canada, Russia, Norway
- Magnesium compounds and metal – from Canada, China, Russia
- Sulfur – produced in 29 states and imported from Canada, Mexico, Venezuela
- Silicon – half imported, 60% of that from China and Russia
- Molybdenum – from U.S. mines in the Rocky Mountain States and Nevada
- Vanadium – 100% imported from Czech Republic, South Africa, China
- Platinum – 91% imported (South Africa, Germany)
- Palladium – 72% (Russia, South Africa)
- Antimony – 86% dependent (China)
- Barium – 79% import reliance, almost all from China
- Beryllium – from Utah
- Cobalt – recycling (20%) and imports (80% - Norway, Russia, China)
- Gallium – 99% dependent, from China, Ukraine, Germany
- Gold – U.S. is a net exporter. Nevada is the leading producing state.
- Neodymium – 100% dependent. China produces almost all in the world.
- Tin - recycling (20%) and imports (80% - Peru, Bolivia, China)
- Lithium – more than 50% imports, from Chile and Argentina
- Vinyl plastic – made from natural gas (19% imported, mostly from Canada) and salt (17% imported, largely from Canada and Chile)
There’s more, but that’ll do for this post. Are you saying, “I really don’t care whether my car has neodymium and lithium or not.”? You should. As gasoline prices increase, those and other elements will become dramatically more important in electric batteries and in improving fuel efficiency. Do you like your car’s glossy paint? Barium from China contributes to that sheen. Platinum and palladium make your catalytic converter work.
What Things Are Made Of covers the geology behind China’s near-monopoly in rare-earth production (including neodymium) and Bolivia’s status as the future “Saudi Arabia of lithium.”
Buick photo in public domain, via Wikipedia