United States seeks more diversity in critical minerals supply alliances

October 14, 2019

Efforts by the United States to diversify its supply chain for critical minerals include plans to bolster domestic production as well as form partnerships to source the minerals deemed necessary to national security from countries other than China.

A key part of that process, as laid out by the Commerce Department’s critical minerals strategy, published in June this year, is forming alliances with “friendly” suppliers.

Likewise, Australia is looking to reduce its dependence on China for rare earth minerals leading to high-level discussions between the nations. 

“There is a good case for worldwide cooperation here to diversify the supply of these minerals,” Australia’s Resources Minister Matt Canavan said in an interview with Sky News television. “The concentration of all these markets could cause a risk to the security and affordability of the supply of these critical minerals.”

Bloomberg reported that Australian officials held new talks with U.S. counterparts and are considering how best to help projects win access to financing and to secure long-term supply deals, he said. Similar discussions were held in September in Japan and South Korea, Canavan said.

President Donald Trump in July ordered the U.S. Defense Department to spur production of a range of rare-earth magnets used in military hardware amid concerns China could restrict exports of the products. U.S. Geological Survey scientists have also visited projects in Australia in the past year, including Northern Minerals Ltd.’s Browns Range development, Bloomberg reported.

Lynas Corp., the largest supplier of rare earths outside China, has held discussions with U.S. defense department and the Defense Logistics Agency, the producer said in August. The company, with a mine in Australia and processing plant in Malaysia, is considering plans to add a facility in Texas.

The United States has also had high-level discussions with Canada. President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed “ways to improve mineral security and … work more closely to ensure secure and reliable supply chains” at a meeting in June.

The official Canadian press statement also noted that Trudeau “highlighted the importance of Canadian uranium to North American energy security,” a pointed reference to an ongoing U.S. investigation into uranium import dependency.

Canada is already a leading producer of nickel and cobalt and has another 70 advanced projects for both metals, according to a July presentation by Hilary Morgan, director international affairs at Natural Resources Canada. (“Critical Minerals Supply Chains,” July 23, 2019)

Also ticking the U.S. metallic wish list are Canada’s 16 advanced rare earths projects and its 17 advanced and near-stage lithium projects.

The United States has also established, along with nine other countries, the Energy Resource Governance Initiative with the specific focus on new-energy minerals such as lithium, cobalt and copper. The aim is to share “best practices on minerals management and governance” to promote “integrated and resilient supply chains” as the electric vehicle revolution builds momentum.

Photo: The Brown’s Range Project in Australia. Credit; Honeywell

 

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