Commerce Department investigating whether reliance on imported NdFeB magnets poses a threat to national security.
The U.S. Department of Commerce last Friday launched an investigation into the impact of importing neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) magnets on U.S. national security. The action was recommended in June of this year as part of a White House review of supply chains for a wide range of industries.
Although not explicitly mentioned in the Department’s announcement, the investigation is directed at the heavy reliance on imports from China, the main producer of the high-power magnets. In addition to electric cars, these are also needed for military technology. For example, America’s most modern military jet, the F-35, contains more than 400 kilograms of rare earths, according to figures from the Congressional Research Service. Ten times that amount is needed to build a Virginia-class submarine.
If the investigation shows that dependence on imports poses a threat to U.S. national security, the responsible secretary, Gina M. Raimondo, will notify President Joe Biden and present recommendations for action. Efforts to build an independent rare earth industry from mining to finished product manufacturing have been underway for some time. For example, tax benefits for domestic manufacturers of magnets are under discussion. There are also plans to build processing plants for the raw materials mined in Mountain Pass (California), for example.