China is the world’s largest producer and processor or rare earth minerals. As trade tensions continue to simmer between the United States and China it has given rise to fears about the United States’ dependence on the minerals that have only grown in importance.
The U.S. Department of Defense has since turned to with Australia for help and has opened talks with that nation to host a facility that would process rare earth minerals, a senior American official said.
“We’re concerned about any fragility in the supply chain and especially where an adversary controls the supply,” Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told Reuters at a Washington event.
Lord said the Pentagon is looking at several options to partner on rare earth processing facilities, adding “one of the highest potential avenues is to work with Australia.”
Reuters reported that the Pentagon update came after the United States said earlier this year that it would look to Australia and Canada to develop rare earths reserves around the world to reduce the global reliance on China. The United States has also held talks with rare earths projects across Africa.
Lord said she has held several talks with Australian officials this year about whether such a plant could supply the Pentagon’s needs.
In July, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the Pentagon to find better ways to procure a range of magnets made from rare earths, warning that the nation’s defense would suffer without adequate stockpiles.
Australia’s Lynas Corp. is the world’s largest rare earths miner and processor outside of China. It was not immediately clear if the Pentagon would partner with Lynas or another Australian entity.
Rare earth minerals need to be processed after they are extracted from the ground. There is only one operational rare earths mine in the United States, the Mountain Pass Mine, though the country has no processing facilities.
California’s Mountain Pass mine is building a processor and hopes to have it online by next year (ME, Aug. 26).