Op-ed | America should stop relying on China for rare earths needed for renewable energy infrastructure

March 11, 2020

Excerpt: The good news is that the United States doesn’t need to depend on China for its renewable energy supply chains. Instead, America should start matching China’s industrial strategy. And that means tapping our domestic mineral resources.

It’s time to mine rare earth metals at home

[Michael Stumo | March 8, 2020 | Dallas Morning News]

As the recent presidential debates have shown, many in Washington are eager to move forward on a renewable energy future. Policymakers are already considering wider production of electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels. But there’s a problem. The United States currently produces only a fraction of the different metals needed to manufacture these 21st century technologies. And even worse, America’s primary supplier for many key metals is China, a strategic competitor with a long history of toxic production and unsafe labor conditions.

The good news is that the United States doesn’t need to depend on China for its renewable energy supply chains. Instead, America should start matching China’s industrial strategy. And that means tapping our domestic mineral resources.

Why focus on mining? Because electric cars require metals like lithium, nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese and graphite. Wind turbines need rare earths like neodymium and dysprosium. And solar panels use minerals like cadmium, tellurium, germanium and selenium. The list goes on, with even cell phones using plenty of gold, silver, copper, cobalt and zinc.

The coming surge in demand for these metals and minerals will be staggering. Researchers in Sweden project that the stock of available minerals required for electric vehicles will need to increase by 87,000 percent in order to meet climate goals, and the resources for solar panels will need to rise 1,000 percent; wind turbines, 3,000 percent.

Right now, the United States is heavily dependent on other countries to supply dozens of key metals and minerals, countries often found to be exploiting workers, resources, and the environment. This reliance on imported minerals has nearly doubled over the past two decades. And no country controls more supplies globally than China. Last month, the U.S. Geological Survey reportedthat China continues to “dominate” the global supply of rare earths, supplying 80 percent of the rare earths used in the United States.

As someone who studies U.S.-China trade, this troubles me greatly. China’s dominance of metals and minerals is strategic. Control of mining and processing allows Beijing to exert power over global industries. Washington must pay attention, particularly when this control includes labor camps, a disregard for environmental standards, and efforts to degrade U.S. industry.

In order for the United States to reshore manufacturing and to lead on advanced technologies, we must reduce our reliance on China. The United States is home to vast, untapped geologic deposits. We should develop our own mineral and metal supply chains, following smart, safe environmental standards. Mining will remain essential for producing the next generation of advanced industries. Doing it here at home will protect the global environment while supporting good jobs in many domestic industries.

Michael Stumo is chief executive of the Coalition for a Prosperous America.

Read the original article here. 

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  • Rare Earths Investor
    I agree with the premise. To build a value chain within the US (probably including AUS and Canada) is going to need a macro move by the admin’ to ensure all pieces are in place (e.g., for RE – from mining to processing to magnets to manufacture to military). Without such governmental intervention, which IMO is going to see a closed-loop involving pricing to ensure company profitability, private financing is not going to take the chance. Taking on Chinese dominance is not worth their risk (Molycorp is the classic reminder to all financiers of the boom to bust in RE). Will such a new small scale value chain designed to support the US (etc) military be able to expand into commercial supply, that is another question.

    However, as I have also expressed elsewhere such US strategic moves in the critical metals sector better occur in 2020. Should Trump lose the election almost certainly the Democrat occupant who would be beholding to the green lobby and the left of the party, would not be supportive towards new mining and processing permits here in the US. The military would not be a priority and likewise, the approach to trade with China that Trump has demonstrated would also likely disappear under a new administration. Most likely we would return to the laissez-faire approach which would happily see US continued reliance on Chinese supply; particularly when it comes to leaving messy mining and hazardous processing to ‘others’. https://twitter.com/EarthsRare