US Army to invest in rare earths processing plant for defence needs

12 December 2019 (Last Updated December 12th, 2019 12:10)

In a bid to boost the domestic supply of rare earth metals for the production of defence equipment, the US Army is reportedly planning to invest in rare earths processing capabilities.

In a bid to boost the domestic supply of rare earth metals for the production of defence equipment, the US Army is reportedly planning to invest in rare earths processing capabilities.

The US Army is looking to fund the construction of a plant that will process rare earths, Reuters reported citing a government document.

The project is in line with the US Government’s focus on increasing domestic supply and reducing dependence on import of these minerals from other countries.

If the move is successful, it would be the first investment in ‘commercial-scale rare earths production’ by the US Armed Forces in more than 70 years.

The US Government relies on China for a major share of its rare earth imports. The Trump administration is pushing for sovereign capabilities in the domain in the wake of the ongoing trade dispute with the Asian country.

Experts expressed concerns that Beijing could use its strong position as a rare earth supplier to its advantage in the trade war.

According to estimates, 80% of the rear earth minerals imported by Washington between 2014 and 2017 were from China.

The US Geological Survey estimates that China controls around 90% of the world’s rare earths.

UCore Rare Metals CEO Jim McKenzie was quoted by the news agency as saying: “The US rare earths industry needs big help to compete against the Chinese. It’s not just about the money, but also the optics of broad support from Washington.”

According to the government document, the military sought proposals from miners last month on the cost of building a heavy rare earths production facility.

Respondents are required to mention details such as the location of the ore’s source.

Rare earth minerals are used in a range of applications, including cell phones, computers, batteries and motors used in electric vehicles.

Some of the minerals in this category are used in the manufacture of weapons and electronics in the defence sector. Around 920lb of rare earth materials are found in each F-35 fighter aircraft, according to a Congressional Research Service report in 2013.

The US is looking to make use of Australian firm Lynas’ position as a major producer of these minerals. The company entered a partnership with US-based private firm Blue Line to jointly build a rare earth separation facility in the US.

China also holds a dominant position in the production of rare earth magnets that are used in military aircraft, as well as laser and precision-guided missiles.