Dept. of Energy awards $19M for rare earths, critical minerals initiatives

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rare earths

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The Biden administration taken another step to ease China’s current stranglehold on the rare earth element (REE) sector.

These elements are a crucial ingredient in the manufacture of products for both civilians and the defense sector. Rare earths make their way into smartphones, computer hard drives, medical imaging equipment, electric vehicles, and missiles, aircraft guidance and control systems, radars, and more.

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DOE awards $19M toward rare earths, critical minerals production

The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently earmarked US $19 million to fund 13 projects to produce REEs and critical minerals.

Sen. Mitt Romney cited China’s “near monopoly” on the sector and his state’s role in the US’s attempts to boost its own production.

“With this funding, Utah will continue to play a vital role in United States’ production of rare earth metals and critical minerals, which will help rebuild our supply chain and decrease our dependence on China,” Romney said.

Furthermore, China produces almost 70% of the world’s total supply of rare earth metals.

Those who will receive the funding include: Pennsylvania State University; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; Collaborative Composite Solutions; and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.

In addition, the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) will manage the selected projects.

Meanwhile, in a separate announcement, the University of Wyoming said it received US $3 million from the DOE for research focused on “expanding and transforming the use of coal to produce coal-based products using carbon ore, rare earth elements and critical minerals.”

UW’s School of Energy Resources (SER) Center for Economic Geology Research submitted two projects. Ultimately, the DOE selected were among 13 projects nationwide, including UW’s submissions.

“SER is thrilled to have received these grants from the Department of Energy,” SER Executive Director Holly Krutka said. “We are honored to collaborate with stakeholders around the state and region to lead a research program focused on building the tools needed to support a rare earths and critical minerals industry.”

The funds, it added, would go toward research in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana and the Greater Green River and Wind River basins of Wyoming and Colorado.

Rare earths market to continue growing

Meanwhile, according to a new report, the global rare-earth metals market is likely to grow from US $5.3 billion in 2021 to US $9.6 billion by 2026. That comes at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.33% during the forecast period.

The report said the Asia-Pacific region would be the fastest-growing market for rare earth metals due to increase in production and consumption in China. China produces about 140,000 tons a year.

For long, countries like the US have been dependent on China for its REE supplies. Former President Donald Trump issued an executive order address US reliance on “foreign adversaries” for rare earths. Per that order, the US imports 80% of its rare earths directly from China.

Meanwhile, in February 2021, President Joe Biden had followed up with another executive order citing critical minerals. Biden’s order directed national security and economic officials to conduct a review of US supply chain risks within 100 days.

Also, Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure legislation seeks to rebuild the country’s semiconductor industry.

Around the world

However, the US is not alone in these efforts.

Japan, Australia and even India are now moving in that same direction.

In March, the US, Japan, India and Australia discussed finding alternative sources of rare earths and increase refining capacity.

In fact, in addition to Japan and Brazil, Australia is in a leadership position to supply rare earth materials. Last year, the country contributed 17,000 tons of rare earths to the global supply.

Meanwhile, in 2018, significant deposits were found in Japan’s far eastern territorial waters. However, mining there could take time because of the challenges of underwater mining.

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