ANALYSTS SAYS U.S. RARE-EARTH SUFFICIENCY AT LEAST 10 YEARS AWAY
Joe Biden’s ambition to make the US less dependent on other nations for rare-earths and minerals critical to the clean energy transition will take years to accomplish, Joe Deaux and Stephen Lee reported for Bloomberg News.
A review of the U.S. critical minerals and rare-earths supply chain that the president ordered this week is likely to show that even with sweeping changes the nation is at least a decade from becoming self-sufficient.
That will mean turning to countries such as Canada, which has the largest number of rare earth projects in the world, according to Gareth Hatch, managing director of Strategic Materials Advisors Ltd.
“There’s far greater expertise in rare-earths and critical minerals in Canada and Australia than there is in the US,” said Hatch, who is also the CEO of Innovation Metals Corp., a subsidiary of Ucore Rare Metals, which has a rare-earth project in the US.
“But the downstream markets are in the U.S., so it’s in the interest of all three countries to work together with the US being the ultimate end market.”
America lacks capacity to produce enough permanent magnets, needed to run the engines of everything from missile guidance systems to the wind turbines and electric cars at the center of the clean energy transition.
Miners say it takes so long to get federal and state environmental permits, and that the process is so unpredictable and open-ended, that they struggle to plan new mines. The US has only one operational rare-earths mine -- the Mountain Pass site in California owned by MP Materials -- with a handful of others a decade away from starting production.
Right now, the mined ore all gets sent to China for processing, compared with China’s dozens of mines and hundreds of refining and separation facilities. The Defense Department awarded MP Materials contracts to fund processing and separation of rare-earths, putting it on track to become the only U.S. company capable of doing so.
“The supply-side response is always so slow compared to demand side events, so you absolutely have to start now for putting this capacity in place,” Hatch said. “The red tape associated with development of new minerals or mining projects in the US has been pretty significant.”