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The U.S. Is Racing To Reduce Its Rare Earths Dependence On China

The White House last month announced new efforts to develop the country’s rare earths supply chain.

For years, the U.S. has discussed such efforts, aimed at mitigating dependence on China, which dominates an overwhelming majority of global rare earths supply.

The Department of Defense’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment program awarded MP Materials $35 million. The firm will separate and process heavy rare earth elements at its facility in Mountain Pass, California, “establishing a full end-to-end domestic permanent magnet supply chain.”

“These minerals power phones and computers, household appliances, electric vehicles and batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, and so much more,” President Joe Biden said in remarks Feb. 22. “Without these minerals, we simply cannot fun- — they can’t function.  And we expect to — demand to — for them to increase by 400 to 600 percent over the next several decades.”

Furthermore, the White House cited China’s control of 87% of the global permanent magnet market.

In addition, the White House said Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables will break ground on a facility in California. It will test the viability of its sustainable lithium extraction process at the California site.

Related: U.S. LNG Export Boost To Europe Scrutinized By Environmentalists

“Imperial Valley contains some of the largest deposits of lithium in the world,” the White House said. “Once at scale, BHE Renewables facilities could produce 90,000 metric tons of lithium per year.”

Biden administration invests in batteries

Also last month, the Biden administration announced it would invest $3 billion toward strengthening the U.S. supply chain for advanced batteries. The batteries are for vehicles and energy storage.

The funding would go toward:

  • Battery materials refining and production plants
  • Battery cell and pack manufacturing facilities
  • Recycling facilities

“With the global lithium-ion battery market expected to grow rapidly over the next decade, DOE is making it possible for the United States to be prepared for market demand,” the Department of Energy said last month. “Responsible and sustainable domestic sourcing of the critical materials used to make lithium-ion batteries — such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite — will help close the gap in supply chain disruptions and accelerate battery production in America.”

Rare earths prices surge, Chinese exports rise

Like seemingly every other commodity, rare earths prices have also been on the rise.

China exported a cumulative 7,835 tons of rare earths in January and February this year, the General Administration of Customs reported. The total marked an increase of 10.9% year over year.

Meanwhile, the value of those exports reached $127.6 million, or up 61.8% year over year.

In that vein, the Ministry of Industry and Technology has sought to control the run-up in prices. According to Reuters, the ministry asked rare earths producers in the country to prevent market speculation or hoarding.

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Actual rare earths prices and trends

The Chinese yttrium price rose by 12.28% month over month to $52.09 per kilogram as of March 1.

Meanwhile, the terbium oxide price rose 10.44% to $2,401 per kilogram. Neodymium oxide rose 7.01% to $190,894 per metric ton. Lastly, dysprosium oxide rose 2.47% to $493 per kilogram.

By AG Metal Miner 

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