China is a dominant force in the rare earth element (REE) industry, accounting for 70% of reserves worldwide. After launching mining operations nearly 70 years ago, the country controls close to 99 percent of the market.
The elements are used in the manufacturing of electronics, magnets, and military hardware. In addition, consumer applications of these metals include batteries for hybrid cars, laptop computers, and mobile phones.
A Small Colorado Town Seeks to End Global Dominance
Across the Pacific Ocean, a small Colorado city threatens that Herculean market share and hopes to alleviate the United State’s dependence on China’s raw materials. Constructed by USA Rare Earth and commissioned in early June, the pilot plant and processing facility in Wheat Ridge, a Denver suburb that borders the capital city, is processing mining ore deposits in Texas.
The facility fills the gap left when the California-based Mountain Pass REE mine was shut down, courtesy of China manipulating the minerals market that continues today. An attempted reopening failed. At the time, Mountain Pass was the only developed REE mine in the United States.
In addition to the Wheat Ridge plant, plans are in place to build a larger processing facility next year at the Round Top REE mine, also based in the Lone Star State.
Surprisingly, several ore bodies exist throughout the U.S., and Canada remains undeveloped. In an attempt to start mining operations and end the stranglehold China enjoys on EEE, a presidential executive order has been issued and legislation has been proposed.