The U.S. Department of Defense wants to see bags of processed rare earth sitting on domestic soil, feeding the production of neodymium magnets in a politically secure supply chain. Its latest move toward the objective came in February when Australian-based Lynas Rare Earths Ltd, the largest rare earth element mining and processing company outside of China, was awarded a technology investment contract by DoD to build a rare earths processing plant in Texas.
The plant will process light rare earth elements (LREE). LREEs are critical to numerous defense and commercial applications including petroleum refining, glass additives, and magnets used in electric vehicle drivetrain motors and precision-guided munitions, says DoD. Upon completion of the project, if successful, Lynas will produce approximately 25 percent of the world supply of rare earth element oxides. Currently, Lynas operates a modern, rare-earths separations facility in Malaysia that processes ore from its Mt. Weld mine in Australia which is the only large-scale such operation outside China.
Through its wholly-owned subsidiary Lynas USA LLC, Lynas will establish LREE separation capacity in Hondo, Texas. Under the agreement, DoD is contributing $30.4 million to help fund the project while Lynas says it expects to spend about $30 million. Lynas announced in 2019 that it had formed a joint venture with Blue Line Corporation involving the company’s site in Hondo for a heavy rare earths separation plant there. Headquartered in nearby San Antonio, Blue Line is a manufacturer of inorganic salts including rare earths for industrial and high-tech applications. For more info, see www.lynascorp.com.