As the Biden Administration doubles down on its ambitious climate and technology agenda, it becomes increasingly clear that the issue of material inputs underpinning a green energy transition must be addressed. Followers of ARPN know — not least since last year’s World Bank report or last week’s IEA report — that massive supplies of EV battery tech metals like lithium, graphite, nickel and cobalt, as well as mainstays like copper and aluminum will be required. However, beyond that, the Rare Earths, which aside their application in green energy technology also are key components of hi-tech defense applications will also play a prominent role on the critical minerals front going forward.
Aware of the need to bolster critical mineral supply chains against the backdrop of a Chinese near-total supply and processing monopoly, the Biden Administration singled out Rare Earths as a target in a February 2021 presidential executive order designed to initiate a review of gaps in domestic supply chains.
In a recent piece, CNBC’s Samantha Subin gives insight into the state of play and the challenges ahead. She cites Jane Nakano, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic International Studies’ Energy Security and Climate Change program, who said: “It’s technically possible to try and rebuild the entire supply chain because we once had it. (…) It’s not that we’re not experienced, it’s not that we have no idea of what the domestic supply chain may look like.” Nakano believes that factors like business, environmental and political may complicate any efforts, especially in the near-term.
Detailing some of the current efforts underway (look for more on that on our blog tomorrow), Subin argues that “success is dependent on whether the U.S. can quickly scale up processing and refining after the mining of the resources, and compete on cost with a magnet-making and processing market that’s heavily dominated by China.”
Nakano concludes that meeting projected without global supply chains, warrant the build-out of “massive levels of production” in the U.S., and the creation of an extraction and production chain that could well take up to a decade. She believes that the best course of action is to work with partners like the European Union to alleviate reliance on dominant players like China:
“Once you achieve that, let’s say ten, twenty years from now, then everyone can start looking at making a truly domestic supply chain,” she told CNBC’s Subin.
All of which brings us back to the “all of the above” approach to critical mineral resource policy experts at a recent virtual congressional policy forum agreed is warranted for U.S. policy: There is no immediate silver bullet, but focusing on building out domestic production and processing capabilities while at the same time fostering cooperation with close allies and scaling up research and development is a winning recipe for Rare Earths and beyond.