Released at the beginning of June, the White House’s 100 Day Supply Chain report assessed risks and vulnerabilities in the supply chains for four key industrial sectors, making recommendations on how to alleviate them appears to have already inspired several new developments in the critical minerals realm:
As the Australian Financial Review’s U.S. correspondent Matthew Cranston reported last week, Australian mining company Ioneer has entered into an agreement with the world’s second largest manufacturer of battery components, South Korea’s EcoPro, under which it will sell up to a third of the Lithium produced at Ioneer’s Rhylite Ridge site in Nevada to the battery manufacturer. In doing so, “Ioneer will effectively supply the critical minerals that go into the production of Ford and Volkswagen electric vehicles in the US by supplying the South Korean-based EcoPro,” writes Cranston. Cranston calls the agreement “one of the first major deals since President Joe Biden’s decree to shift away from lower-standard Chinese critical mineral and component production in US supply chains.” That’s a Nevada-to-Korea-and-back-to-the-U.S. supply chain, de-coupling from China’s dominant EV battery sector.
Expected to produce as much as 800,000 metric tons of Lithium over the next forty years at its Nevada mine site, Ioneer will supply up to 7,000 metric tons of Lithium carbonate to EcoPro per year over the course of three years under the agreement.
A similar supply chain shift is evident in the Rare Earths sector, where Energy Fuels and Neo Performance Materials have joined forces to create a “new United States-to-Europe rare earth supply chain.” Earlier this month, a first container containing 20 metric tons of mixed rare earth carbonate shipped from Energy Fuel’s White Mesa Mill in Utah to Neo’s Silmet rare earth processing facility located in Estonia, where the materials will be separated into rare earth oxides and other rare earth compounds.
According to Energy Fuels’s CEO Mark Chalmers, with Neo being the only commercial producer of separated rare earth oxides in Europe, product is being shipped to Estonia because “there is no next step in the United States. We ship to Estonia because that’s the only separation plant that makes the high purity rare earth elements in Europe.”
Meanwhile, the company is planning to build a separation plant at White Mesa over the course of the next two to three years, with a potential prospect of incorporating other metals and alloys, as well as capabilities to manufacture REE permanent magnets.
The deals tie into the “all of the above” approach embraced by the Biden Administration in its 100 Day Supply Chain Report and subsequent policy statements, which seeks to invest in “sustainable production, refining, and recycling capacity domestically,” while at the same time looking to “diversify supply chains away from adversarial nations and sources with unacceptable environmental and labor standards” by working closely with allies and partners.
As these U.S.-to-Korea and U.S.-to-Estonia examples suggest, we can reasonably expect more deals remapping global supply chains in the coming weeks and months – and ARPN followers can reasonably expect that we will feature them when appropriate in the context of ARPN’s ongoing coverage of our nation’s critical mineral resource challenges.