Is a Big Year Ahead for Rare Earths?

Written by Jennifer Clark
Posted January 8, 2020

The U.S. has set the goal of freeing itself from dependence on Chinese rare earths.

Back in 2019, the U.S. and Canada signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for critical materials on December 18. This was a big step towards independence from Chinese rare earths for the U.S. and Canada. 

Ian London, chair of Canadian Rare Earth Elements Network (CREEN), said:

In a complementary initiative, on December 18, Canada and the U.S. signed a Memorandum of Understanding confirming Canada’s participation in the U.S.-led Energy Resource Governance Initiative (ERGI), part of a multi-prolonged strategy by Washington to break free of China’s near-monopoly on so-called critical energy minerals essential for high-tech industries — producing everything from lithium batteries for electric cars, to smartphones and computers, wind turbines and defense assets. 

The U.S. Army has plans to fund the construction of rare earths processing facilities. The last time the U.S. military invested in commercial-scale rare earths production was World War II’s Manhattan Project, which saw the building of the first atomic bomb. Washington is pushing big time to create a domestic supply of minerals that can be used to make military weapons and electronics. 

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As tensions between the U.S. and China continue, President Donald Trump doesn’t want the U.S. to be reliant on other nations for materials needed for U.S. defense. China refines most of the world’s rare earths, and, recently, it has mentioned stopping the exportation of these minerals to the U.S. Trump doesn’t want to be bullied by another nation or have America's defense capabilities in the hands of another government.

Producing its own rare earths could put the U.S. in a unique position. The Army division that oversees the creation of the processing facilities has asked miners to submit proposals that detail the cost of producing so-called heavy rare earths (specialized minerals that are used in weaponry). 

Jim McKenzie, the CEO of Ucore Rare Metals Inc. said, “The U.S. rare earths industry needs big help to compete against the Chinese. It’s not just about money, but also the optics of broad support from Washington.” Ucore Rare Metals is currently developing a rare earths project in Alaska. 

There will be more news in the months to come. The takeaway is that the U.S. is extremely focused on bringing rare earths back home. To have the upper hand and one less tie with China seems ideal. 

USA Rare Earth LLC is the funding and developing partner of the Round Top Heavy Rare Earth and Critical Minerals Project with Texas Mineral Resources Corp. Last month, these two entities announced that the pilot plant in Wheat Ridge, Colorado is expected to be up and running in the first quarter of this year. The facility’s purpose is to separate and purify rare earth and tech metals and critical minerals from the Round Top project. 

The Round Top deposit will also include uranium, beryllium, gallium, hafnium, and zirconium. Pini Althaus, the CEO of USA Rare Earth said, “Our Colorado pilot plant will be the first processing facility outside of China with the ability to separate the full range of rare earths — lights, mids, and heavies.”

He went on to say:

Round Top and our pilot plant constitute essential links in restoring a domestic U.S. rare earth supply chain, extracting rare earths and processing them into individual REE oxides — without the material ever leaving the United States, thereby alleviating the current dependence on China for the both raw materials and mineral processing.

According to Zion Market Research, the global rare earth market will grow in value from $8.1 billion in 2018 to more than $14.4 billion by 2025. There’s going to be a lot more movement this year as activity within the market from the U.S. and Canada picks up. If the U.S. can become a strong competitor of China, things will really heat up.

Until next time, 

Jennifer Clark
Pro Trader Today
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