Rare Earths: U.S. Government Boosts Coal-Based Sources

by | 22. Aug 2023 - 10:12 | Politics

Department of Energy allocates $30 million to bolster critical mineral supply chain.

The Department of Energy has announced it will support rare earth and other critical mineral extraction projects from coal, coal waste, and associated by-products to strengthen onshore production and bolster domestic supply chains. Provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the funding of $30 million is aimed at reducing the dependence on offshore supplies while creating jobs in communities with a history of mining and producing fuels from fossil energy resources. Regions such as the Appalachian states have grappled with declining coal demands and connected reduction of jobs. In these regions, efforts have been made to repurpose closed and existing mines for quite some time, for example, securing the rare earth elements contained in the mine tailings and other residues. Since January 2021, the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management has announced an estimated $41 million in funding for these projects. The now-announced additional funding is aimed at extending these efforts.  

Despite Additional Raw Material Sources – Still Dependent on Imports

However, securing new sources of raw rare earths will not make the U.S. independent from imports, as the country currently lacks the necessary processing facilities. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. imports most downstream products of rare earths, such as metals and permanent magnets used in wind turbine traction motors, for example. The mined raw materials are shipped to other countries, especially China, where they are processed, refined, and then exported again. To become independent, the U.S. will also need to ramp up these production steps.

Photo: iStock/Maksim Safaniuk

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