The United States and its allies should mine and process additional rare-earth to maintain sufficient worldwide supplies of critical minerals for military and commercial purposes.
There are 17 minerals required to build specialized magnets for weapons and electric cars. The Pentagon is increasingly interested in public-private mining partnerships to offset China as a prominent worldwide supplier of rare earths (EVs). The Pentagon’s Office of Industrial Policies Danielle Miller said at the Adamas Intelligence North American Critical Minerals Days conference: “We know we cannot manage our shared exposure to supply chain risk without a tight engagement with industry.” It is necessary to strengthen global supply chain resilience by developing new primary production of strategic and vital minerals (in other words, mines).
Miller cited recent Pentagon investments in U.S. rare earth projects being developed by M.P. Materials Corp (MP.N), Urban Mining Co, and a joint venture between Australia’s Lynas Rare Earths Ltd (LYC.AX) and Blue Line Corp as evidence that the Pentagon wants to be a “patient, strategic investor” in private industry. “Domestic production of strategic and crucial commodities is the ultimate hedge against the possibility of purposeful non-market intervention in lengthy international supply chains,” Miller wrote, apparently referring to China’s suggestions that it may reduce rare earth supplies to the United States. According to Miller, the Pentagon aims to assist mining businesses in allied countries in “creating a shared concept of sustainability.” These requirements are the most stringent in the world when it comes to extractive industries like mining in the United States
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Miller said, “We want to collaborate with (miners) to speed the shift from the lowest cost, technically acceptable source to one that matches our values.” Ucore Rare Metals Inc. ‘s partnership with Vital Metals Ltd. takes a significant step toward creating a North American rare earth supply chain that includes the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, and Alaska regions. While Vital is establishing a processing plant in Saskatchewan to enhance its high-grade ore into a midstream carbonated product with a mixture of rare earths, it has already created Canada’s only rare earths mine at its Nechalacho project in the Northwest Territories.
A REE separation facility in Alaska, proposed by Ucore, would be the final link in a supply chain that would give manufacturers access to a North American supply of the individual rare earth oxides.
For the last 40 years, China has dominated the world’s rare earths markets, mining 60 percent of the world’s REEs and purifying 80 percent of the remaining REEs. While the Mountain Pass Mine of M.P. Materials in the Mojave Desert of California produces a substantial quantity of rare earths; it lacks the ability to separate concentrates generated there into individual rare earths that may be used. M.P. Materials, on the other hand, sends its concentrates to be separated in China instead. American companies purchase rare earth metals and enhanced goods that include these elements from China and other foreign vendors. As a result, the United States is 100 percent dependent on other nations for its supply of separated rare earth oxides. More than 80% of these essential metals are imported from China directly or through secondary countries.
Before long, the United States was left in the dust as China strategically expanded its production and processing capabilities, resulting in near-total dominance of the rare earth supply chain, according to National Mining Association CEO Rich Nolan. A vision and strategy from Ucore indicate this isn’t necessary. With a preliminary offtake agreement for Vital’s rare earth carbonates produced in Canada and a second agreement with the Southeast Conference to help secure funding for a planned separation facility in Alaska, Ucore’s vision of establishing a critical link in the emerging North American REE supply chain has become much clearer.