Metal Tech News - August 2, 2023
Continuing its heavy investments into America's critical mineral supply chain, the U.S. Department of Defense has allocated roughly $258 million to support development of the Lynas U.S. Rare Earths processing facility in Texas, which is more than double the original $120 million price tag for establishing the first large-scale heavy rare earth elements separation plant outside of China.
"This effort is a cornerstone event in securing resilient supply chains by enabling the United States and its allies to gain an organic capability for critical minerals and materials and depart from foreign dependence as directed by President Biden's Executive Order 14017," said U.S Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Resilience Halimah Najieb-Locke.
An administration-wide assessment under this presidential order identified the Defense Production Act –a Cold War-era law that expanded presidential authorities to secure materials critical to the U.S. – as a "powerful tool" for bolstering American critical mineral supply chains.
When it comes to establishing a domestic source of the heavy rare earths critical to America's economy and national security, the Pentagon selected Lynas USA LLC, a subsidiary of Australia-based Lynas Rare Earths Ltd.
"We are delighted to work with the U.S. DoD to deliver our U.S. Heavy Rare Earths separation plant in Texas, which is a key pillar of Lynas' growth strategy," said Lynas Rare Earths CEO Amanda Lacaze. "This further support by the DoD demonstrates the priority being given to developing robust and resilient rare earth supply chains."
Owner of the Mt. Weld rare earths mine in Western Australia and an REE separation facility in Malaysia, Lynas is the first company in decades to commercially mine and process rare earths outside of China.
"Lynas is the only commercial scale source of separated rare earths outside of China and our expertise makes us the ideal partner for the DoD as it addresses supply chain vulnerabilities and strengthens national security," Lacaze added.
The Pentagon-supported plant being built in Texas by Lynas is designed to separate heavy rare earth elements, or HREEs, a subset of a larger suite of technology elements.
"HREEs are an increasingly important part of any economy, with applications in virtually every industry including both defense and commercial markets," said Najieb-Locke.
The distinction between light and heavy rare earths is primarily a function of the atomic weight of each element.
Most rare earth deposits contain some mixture of the 15 lanthanides, a group of elements in their own row near the bottom of the periodic table, plus yttrium and scandium, which are also often considered rare earth elements.
Light REEs make up the first eight elements of the lanthanide series. This subset includes:
• Lanthanum – the element for which the lanthanide series gets its name.
• Cerium –used for polishing high-quality optical surfaces.
• Praseodymium – valued for its magnetic and optical properties.
• Neodymium – the main rare earth in the magnets for EV motors and wind turbine generators.
The remaining seven lanthanides are considered heavy rare earths, which are less abundant in most deposits and tend to be more valuable. This subgroup includes:
• Europium – sometimes considered a light REE, is used in red and blue phosphors.
• Terbium – used in high-temperature magnets and to create a green phosphor.
• Dysprosium – improves the durability of magnets in EV motors and wind turbine generators.
• Yttrium – used in phosphors and metal alloys, is often grouped with heavy REEs.
While rare earths are not as uncommon in nature as their name suggests, they are very difficult to separate into the individual elements that are needed for a wide range of high-tech, green energy, industrial, and defense applications.
China's dominance in mining and especially the separation of rare earths is the reason both President Biden and former President Donald Trump authorized the Pentagon to fund the development of domestic supply chains for this suite of elements critical to national defense and homeland security.
"Our heavy rare earths separation plant will be the first of its kind outside China and will help to establish a globally significant, safe and environmentally responsible rare earths supply chain," said Lacaze.
The Lynas U.S. Rare Earths processing facility will be built at an industrial site in Seadrift, a Texas port town about 120 miles southwest of Houston.
Lynas recently acquired a 149-acre parcel in an existing Seadrift industrial zone from Union Carbide Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company.
This Gulf of Mexico coastal site is ideal for importing mixed rare earth products from Lynas' Mt. Weld mine and associated Kalgoorlie processing facility, which will be the initial feedstock for the Texas separation plant.
In addition to its portside location, Seadrift offers excellent infrastructure and a talented workforce in a state that has been synonymous with America's petroleum sector for more than a century and is embracing the energy transition.
"Seadrift, Texas, is an excellent location for our facility and we thank the local authorities for providing such a warm welcome," said Lacaze.
The large site purchased by Lynas also offers enough room to build a light rare earths separation plant along side the heavy REE plant, as well as potential future growth opportunities such as rare earths magnet and recycling facilities to create a circular mine-to-magnet supply chain.
In 2021, the Pentagon agreed to invest up to $30 million to support a light rare earths separation facility to be developed and equally co-funded by Lynas.