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US lawmakers focus on boosting rare earths production

(ATF) Lawmakers in the US are hoping to convert coal miners into suppliers of rare earths, hoping to break China’s stranglehold on the strategic materials and revitalise ailing domestic industries.

Andy Barr, a Kentucky Republican, has introduced a bill to Congress that would cut red tape for coal companies to mine rare earths and other minerals.

As well as shoring up support for a traditional industry, Barr’s proposal would be in line with the goals of President Joe Biden’s administration to revolutionise energy.

“Bringing second life and purpose to one of the United States’ most abundant resources – coal – will strengthen our supply chain and protect national security,” Barr said in a statement.

“My legislation fosters the domestic production of rare-earth and critical minerals used in national security technology as well as in the daily lives of Americans through computers, televisions and vehicles.”

The bill would streamline and expedite the approval process for existing coal mines to extract and process rare earths for batteries and other green-energy infrastructure.

ENDING DOMINANCE

China has dominated worldwide production of the rare earths, a group of 17 elements needed for many high-tech products, for more than a decade, according to the American Geosciences Institute.

The initiative follows a Republican move to establish a rare-earth metallurgical cooperative to develop domestic capabilities for manufacturing critical products composed of rare-earth elements

“We need to end our dependence on China for this critical supply chain,” said Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican senator who is one of the cooperative’s backers along with another Republican senator and 10 Republicans and one Democrat from the House of Representatives.

China’s dominance of rare earths has fostered exploration and development in several US allies, including Australia and Sweden.

La Paz Rare Earth, a wholly owned subsidiary of Australian listed company Broken Hill Prospecting, conducts operations in Arizona sponsored by the US Defense Department.

A Swedish fertiliser company, Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara, said last week it has developed technology to extract praseodymium, neodymium and dysprosium – three key rare earths – from phosphorus-rich apatite ore.

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Rivals teaming up for dig at China’s rare earths dominance 

George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.

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