US Moves To Break Chinese Stranglehold On Rare Earth Minerals, Buys Stake In Mining Firm Focused On Nickel, Cobalt
As a part of an ongoing effort to break the stranglehold of China on rare earth elements critical to electronics and national defence sector, US President Donald Trump last Wednesday (Sep 30) signed an executive order declaring a national emergency in the mining industry.
The order aims to boost domestic production of rare earth minerals critical for military and electronics related technologies while reducing the country’s dependence on China.
The USA currently imports 80 percent of these elements directly from China, with portions of the remainder indirectly sourced from China through other countries. For instance China produces around two-thirds of the world’s lithium-ion batteries and has build complex supply link linkages to secure critical metals from Africa and Latin America.
“The United States is heavily reliant on imports of numerous critical minerals that are critical to America’s national security and economic prosperity, despite the presence of significant sources of some of these minerals across the United States.” the execute order said.
The Order authorised the Department of the Interior to develop a programs under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to fund mineral processing that protects the country’s national security. US’s Pentagon will identify and finance the domestic mining of essential materials while investing in projects abroad through the deployment of the $60 billion United States International Development Finance Corporation.
Rare earth elements is composed of 17 minerals critical to the defense industry’s manufacturing of missiles and munitions, hypersonic weapons, and radiation-hardened electronics — as well as consumer electronics like cellphones. Rare earth elements include ytterbium (used in TVs, computer screens and cancer drugs) and praseodymium (used in magnets and to strengthen metal for aircraft engines).
Earlier this week, the US government invested $25 million in TechMet, a mining group based in London, UK, which specialises in rare earth production, The Telegraph reported. The investment is made with the aim of creating rare earth supply outside of China, which currently controls the global flow of materials such as cobalt and lithium.
The investment in TechMet will help fund the development of a mine in Brazil set to produce nickel and cobalt, essential materials for the production of electric vehicles, batteries and cellphones.
TechMet has a tin and tungsten mine in Rwanda, a rare earth mine in Burundi, and a lithium-ion battery project in Canada. The company also produces vanadium, a key metal used in the manufacture of nuclear reactors and military aircraft. It has stated that its prospective mine in Brazil contains up to 72 million tons of nickel and cobalt.
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