Modern technology including solar cells, household electronics, and defense aircraft among many others depends on a complex network of trade to source many of the materials, services, and technical know-how to maintain production. These technologies contribute beneficially to our everyday lives and are used in many fields including green energy production, everyday electronics, and defense related goods. Some of the materials that are required to produce such technology are in high demand and often volatile supply, with limited opportunities for substitutability due to their specific uses. Thus, these materials are known as critical materials; recent developments have significantly impacted their supply and introduced instability due to the highly-concentrated market whereby a select few countries contribute to the majority of production for these materials. This highly-concentrated market has also brought to light the impact that non-scarcity related events have on the supply risk of critical materials; events such as wars, upheavals, and unstable governments negatively impact the supply risk of critical materials. As a result, this study quantifies the supply risk of socio-political and market based factors of material criticality by using metrics from the world governance indicators, polity project, policy perception index, fragile states index, development assistance, and adapts these metrics to create new indicators for socio-political risk for critical materials. Risk-reward scenario modelling is also used to ascertain criticality based on rational financial decision making by mining firms. Twenty-one critical materials are identified and the developed metrics are used in order to quantify the underlying socio-political risk. Results based on these metrics suggest that the rare earth oxides, tungsten, and terbium show the most supply risk based on the weighted metrics. Furthermore, China and Russia have a disproportionate effect on many of the critical materials that are produced due to the large concentration of materials coming from those countries. Case studies on cobalt, nickel, and the rare earth oxides indicate that these two countries have strong impacts on the socio-political risk of these materials exemplified in the overall average socio-political risk score with the rare earth oxides being the most critical, cobalt being the tenth most critical material, and nickel being the twentieth most critical material out of twenty two materials studied. Beryllium, tungsten, and cobalt are also discussed and analyzed in the risk-reward scenario modelling. Results suggest that beryllium has the largest range of risk to reward outcomes while tungsten has the next lowest range of risk reward points with cobalt having the smallest range in risk-reward points. The tradeoff lines for these three materials also indicate that a rational decision maker would consider tungsten to have the best risk reward tradeoff. Temporal variation is also studied and potential criticality forecasting is possible using these metrics. Beryllium’s decrease in the political stability and violence metric, increase in the development assistance metric, and small parallel changes in government effectiveness, regulatory quality, polity, fragile states, and the policy perception index do not indicate an environment of increasing criticality for beryllium.

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Sustainable Systems (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

Sustainability (GIS)


Gabrielle Gaustad

Advisor/Committee Member

Thomas Trabold

Advisor/Committee Member

Nabil Nasr


RIT – Main Campus