Seeking to build a domestic industrial base in the United States for producing rare earth magnets, the U.S. Department of Defense has been pouring money into a string of operations across the country. Fundings have gone recently to MP Materials for its neodymium mine in Mountain Pass, California, shown above, to magnetics recycler Urban Mining in Texas, to neodymium producer Rare Earths Salts in Nebraska and to the Australian rare earths mining company Lynas for building a process plant in Texas, among others.
In November, as part of the government’s strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals, DoD announced contracts and agreements with several rare earth element producers in its efforts to strengthen the rare earths supply chain in America.
MP Materials, owner of the largest rare-earth mine outside of China, will receive a $9.6 million technology investment to add value-add processing and separation capabilities to its mine and processing facility at Mountain Pass near Las Vegas. MP will refine its current mixed rare earth concentrate production, which represents approximately 12 percent of global rare earth oxide content, into separated rare earth products at its site, shown in the top photo.
DoD contracts also went to TDA Magnetics of Rancho Dominguez, California and to Urban Mining Company of San Marcos, Texas for rare earth element magnet supply chain studies and inventory demonstrations. The funding was $2.3M and $0.86M, respectively.
Earlier, in July, the DoD struck a $28.8 million agreement with Urban Mining as part of the national response to Covid-19. Now operating from its brand new magnet recycling and production plant near Austin, the startup company received the funding to maintain and protect critical workforce capabilities during the disruption caused by the pandemic while strengthening a vital domestic supply-chain of rare earth materials, the government said.
In September, the Defense Logistics Agency increased the scope of its project with Rare Earth Salts to expand the company’s production to 20 tons per year of neodymium praseodymium. Under a Rapid Innovation Fund project, Rare Earth Salts has been scaling up capacity of their low capital and operating cost technology at their Beatrice, Nebraska facility. Rare Earth Salts made their first deliveries of high purity refined rare earth elements to an industry partner in 2020.
In August, DoD announced that it had selected Australian rare earths mining company Lynas Corporation to draw up plans for a new rare earths separations facility in the U.S., which is probably planned for a site in Texas. Lynas announced in 2019 that it had formed a joint venture with Blue Line Corporation involving the company’s site in Hondo for a plant there. Headquartered in San Antonio, Blue Line is a manufacturer of inorganic salts including rare earths for industrial and high-tech applications.
The recent awards add to a series of initiatives involving rare earths that the DoD has taken in recent years to ensure supply and strengthen defense supply chains. Specific actions include stockpiling, implementing rules to transition defense supply chains to non-Chinese sources of rare earth element magnets, launching engineering studies, and a sustainment program focused on re-establishing domestic heavy rare earth element processing.