Dr. Elisa Alonso
Physical Scientist, Minerals Intelligence Research, U.S. Geological Survey
“Rare Earth Elements are not the only critical mineral commodities"
In 2010, the prices of the rare earth elements, the lanthanide series of elements on the periodic table of elements, spiked following market speculation and slowdowns of shipments of these materials from China to the rest of the world. Suddenly, supply chains in the automotive industries, electronics industries, defense and beyond were looking into their dependence on these mineral commodities to evaluate the risks their availability, or lack thereof posed. At that point in time, approximately 98% of the world mined production came from China. The United States, once the dominant producer of rare earth elements, was at this point entirely dependent on imports. Unfortunately, by the measure of import reliance, the rare earths are not unique and in 2022 the U.S. Geological Survey listed over a couple dozen mineral commodities for which the United States is more than 90% import reliant. More importantly, the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey presented in 2022 a list of 50 critical minerals that are non-fuel mineral commodities whose supply is highly reliant on foreign and highly concentrated sources and whose end-uses are essential to the U.S. economy and defense. Understanding the supply and demand for these mineral commodities is fundamental to assessments of criticality.
Dr. Elisa Alonso is a physical scientist working for the Minerals Intelligence Research Section at the U.S Geological Survey (USGS). She joined USGS in 2020 and her work focuses on supply chain analysis and evaluating resource availability for critical materials such as the rare earth elements. Prior to joining the USGS, Alonso was a strategic materials analyst supporting the Defense Logistics Agency Strategic Materials (the National Defense Stockpile manager) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. While supporting DLA-Strategic Materials, she collaborated with USGS and various other government agencies to assess over 200 specialty and commodity materials for potential shortfalls in a national emergency planning scenario. Alonso graduated from McGill University with Bachelor’s degree in Metallurgical Engineering and obtained a doctorate degree in Materials Science and Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.