North American groups seek to break China’s grip on rare earth supply
Three North American Companies Build Rare Earth Supply Chain To Reduce Dependence on China for vital metals used in weapons, electric vehicles and other advanced technologies.
Neo performance materials from Canada and Energy fuels of the United States have found an efficient way to safely produce rare earth radioactive monazite sands. The sands, a mining by-product, will be supplied by the American chemical group Chemours.
China controls around 80% of the rare earth supply and is considering a export ban, which raises fears of a military and commercial advantage over the United States and Europe.
Most Western rare earth companies have avoided monazite, produced from the extraction of zircon, titanium, and other minerals, due to its high radioactive content.
But Energy Fuels, which already processes uranium, has developed a method of extracting the radioactive element from monazite for use in nuclear fuel, turning waste into a source of income.
“This is an important step towards building an integrated supply chain for rare earths in the United States and Europe,” Mark Chalmers, president and CEO of Energy Fuels, told the Financial Times. He said the company only needed to invest $ 2 million in its White Mesa, Utah plant, but could spend more to become a rare earth processor.
Constantine Karayannopoulos, chief executive of Neo, said large US stocks of monazite were the answer to the growing demand for rare earths.
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Monazite contains about 50 percent rare earths, much more than other ores, as well as 0.2-0.3 percent natural uranium. It also contains 15 of the 17 rare earths.
“We are clearly seeing double-digit annual growth in demand [for rare earths] over the next five to ten years, ”said Karayannopoulos. “Sales of electric vehicles in Europe are now higher than in China. Our Silmet factory in Estonia is only operating at 75% of its capacity and we need more raw materials. “
From March or April, Energy Fuels will send the deradiated mixed rare earth carbonate to the Silmet separation plant, the only one in Europe.
Neo will produce separate rare earth materials used in permanent magnets needed for electric cars and other advanced materials.
Fighters such as the F-35 rely heavily on rare earths. A Congressional Research Service Report found that Lockheed Martin’s plane contained 417 kg of rare earths and a nuclear submarine more than 4 tons.
The US government has prioritized a local supply chain to reduce reliance on China. President Joe Biden last month ordered a vulnerability review of key supply chains, including rare earth and the government subsidized some miners and processing companies.
Chemours will supply Energy Fuels with at least 2,500 tonnes per year of monazite ore and send 840 tonnes of rare earths to Estonia.
Energy Fuels ultimately aims to process 15,000 tonnes of monazite per year, which would meet half of the rare earth needs of the United States.