It's OK, USA Rare Earth plant coming soon
Company chooses Oklahoma for final link of REE supply chain Metal Tech News - June 10, 2022
Last updated 7/1/2022 at 9:23am
The rare earth magnets that help wind turbines transform a breeze into low-carbon electricity and then convert that energy to horsepower in the motors of electric vehicles will soon be made in Oklahoma.
On May 9, USA Rare Earth LLC announced it bought a 309,0000-square-foot building in Stillwater, an Oklahoma city that boasts a growing high-tech economy, to house its rare earth elements processing and magnets plant.
"Oklahoma has long been on the cutting edge of energy innovation, and this project embodies the energetic, forward-thinking mentality of our state," said Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. "The USA Rare Earth project will help our state remain a leader in domestic energy production, further diversifying our economy while reducing U.S. dependence on foreign imports."
According to the Stillwater News Press, the city council approved a $7 million incentive for building improvements that will be secured by a lien on the property that USA Rare Earth is paying $9.9 million to purchase.
"The State of Oklahoma and the City of Stillwater offer a unique business, labor and operating environment for USA Rare Earth and will be a catalyst for economic development," said Stillwater Mayor William Joyce. "We are excited to work alongside USA Rare Earth, state and local leaders and our residents to solidify a healthy economy, productive workforce and vibrant community."
With the goal of producing rare earth metals and magnets in Oklahoma by next year, USA Rare Earth plans to invest more than $100 million into the Stillwater facility. The completion of this plant will provide the final links in the company's envisioned U.S. rare earths mine-to-magnets supply chain.
The first link of this chain is the Round Top rare earths and critical minerals mine project in the neighboring state of Texas.
Being advanced toward production under a joint venture between USA Rare Earth (80%) and Texas Mineral Resources Corp. (20%), the Round Top project southeast of El Paso hosts an enormous deposit of rare earths, lithium, and six other minerals critical to the economic wellbeing and security of the U.S.
"USA Rare Earth is developing a fully domestic mine-to-magnet supply chain, while the lithium at Round Top will also support the manufacture of battery electric vehicles," said USA Rare Earth President Thayer Smith. "Our project is a geologically unique and diverse deposit that will help bolster U.S. critical minerals production."
A 2019 economic and engineering study for Round Top outlines plans for a mine that would produce 2,212 metric tons of rare earths per year, including healthy supplies of the six rare earth elements used in the permanent magnets that go into EVs, wind turbines, computer hard drives, speakers, military hardware, and a long list of other high-tech products.
At the rate of mining considered in this economic assessment, Round Top hosts enough rare earths and critical minerals resources to operate for more than a century.
Having a 100-year supply of rare earths, however, will not be very helpful unless domestic facilities are established with the capability of separating the tightly interlocked rare earths into individual elements needed for magnets and other high-tech applications. China's decades-long monopoly of the rare earths market was due to its dominance of both the mining and separation of these elements.
To this day, there are no commercial rare earths separation facilities in the U.S. – a void that USA Rare Earth and a handful of other companies are racing to fill.
"Currently, the United States, European Union, Japan, and much of the developed world is largely reliant on China for critical rare earth element production," said Smith. "Our goal with this project is to advance U.S. manufacturing capacity by establishing the first vertically integrated domestic supply chain for rare earth elements, and we are excited to be working in Oklahoma."
In addition to the Texas mine and Oklahoma manufacturing facility, this supply chain will include the separation of rare earths with continuous ion exchange technology that the company has been developing at its pilot facility in Colorado.
The capacity to produce magnets is the final link in the chain, an area where USA Rare Earth has a distinct advantage.
This head start came with the 2020 purchase of neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnet manufacturing equipment that Hitachi Metals America briefly used at a facility in North Carolina about a decade ago. This is currently the only such sintered rare earths magnets manufacturing equipment in the western hemisphere, and it is to be installed at the Stillwater facility.
This provides Oklahoma a firm foothold in the renewable energy and high-tech economy.
"To increase national security, the U.S. must secure a domestic, reliable and sustainable supply of critical rare earth elements," said Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Ken Wagner. "Oklahoma is perfectly positioned to help lead the way as the U.S. seeks energy independence and less reliance on foreign materials from countries who do not share our values."
At the same time, the Stillwater facility is expected to create more than 100 new jobs and generate over $6.6 million in annual wages once fully operational.
"By establishing more high-wage job opportunities, this project will enable Oklahoma to become a nationwide industry leader across its core economic competencies," said Oklahoma Department of Commerce Executive Director Brent Kisling.
USA Rare Earths anticipates that both its Round Top critical minerals mine in Texas and Stillwater rare earths metal and magnet manufacturing plant in Oklahoma to be operational in 2023.