The U.S. government, through its Department of Energy, will allot some $120 million to fund the creation of a rare earths research facility that will aid the economic leader lessen if not totally cut off its dependence from China, the world's stronghold of the essential 17 precious elements.
The US government, through its Department of Energy, will allot some $120 million to fund the creation of a rare earths research facility that will aid the economic leader lessen if not totally cut off its dependence from China, the world's stronghold of the essential 17 precious elements.
Over the weekend, David Danielson, the U.S. assistant secretary for renewable energy, said the Critical Materials Institute research facility will work on scouting potential substitutes for rare earths, encourage the reuse and recycling of rare earth elements as most importantly, aid the increase of domestic production of rare earth elements in the U.S.
There may be deposits of rare earths in 14 U.S. states that hold at least 13 million metric tonnes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. These states include Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina.
"The Critical Materials Institute will bring together the best and brightest research minds from universities, national laboratories and the private sector to find innovative technology solutions that will help us avoid a supply shortage that would threaten our clean energy industry as well as our security interests," Mr Danielson said in a statement.
For two decades up until the 1980s, the U.S .was the world's foremost supplier of rare earths, courtesy of the Mountain Pass mine in California. But competition from China, which sold its rare earths relatively cheaper than the U.S., led the latter to close its rare earths manufacturing sector.
Moreover, the U.S.' strict environmental laws likewise hindered future rare earths mining activities.
But Jack Lifton, an analyst at Technology Metals Research, believed the U.S.' move to control China's monopoly over the essential rare earths elements is already late.
"It's over, we have given away this technology lead to the Chinese," he said in MIS Asia's portal.
China, which began restricting the imports of its rare earths from as early as 2009, dominates more than 95 per cent of the market.
"I'm not particularly impressed by this," Mr Lifton said, adding it should be the private sector that should solve the problems.
Further, he said, "we don't buy raw materials here to make magnets or lasers - that's all done for us by the Chinese and the Japanese."
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