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The United States plans to spend heavily on important minerals.Choosing a place that is not easy

The United States has invested millions of dollars in researching ways to extract rare earth minerals from abandoned coalfields, but some say this approach doesn’t work. The Pentagon is investing in a US-based rare earth magnet manufacturer that procures many of its products from China. Canada has invested in a mining company with a 21-year history. The mining company has handed over the option of managing its key assets to a business run by the son of the CEO.

“There were many ventures we asked about their claims and what they were doing,” said Drew Horn, a former senior official of the Ministry of Energy, the White House, and the Director of National Intelligence. An important mineral during the Trump administration.

Crushed ore at the MP Material Rare Earth Mine in Mountain Pass, California.


Photo:

Steve Marcus / Reuters

The US and other Western governments are rushing to secure a domestic supply of materials such as rare earths, lithium and boron, which are essential for the growth of technologies such as electric vehicles, satellites and wind turbines. They also want to develop the ability to handle them.

This month, the Senate approved a bipartisan $ 250 billion bill to increase government spending on technology research and development to catch up with China. This includes funding for the digging and processing of important minerals domestically and with allies.

Analysts said the bill was groundbreaking given how comprehensive it was, but said the problem is now finding the right projects to move the strategy forward.

Abigail Seadler Wulf, Head of Key Mineral Strategy for Securing America’s Future Energy, a non-profit organization, said: “Difficulty comes from what happens with that money on earth,” she said.

The Ministry of Energy has already invested $ 19 million in a previous project in the coal community to support research into extracting rare soil from coal waste and ash, which are debris left over when fuel is mined or burned. doing.

In 2019, the U.S. Geological Survey published a study concluding that it is difficult to release rare earths from coal ash on a commercial scale and that coal waste is deficient in minerals worthy of extraction. ..

“The general consensus is that this is a low-grade material,” said David Henderson, founder of leading mineral consulting firm Rittenhouse International Resources LLC.

A DOE spokesman said a priority was to provide the underprivileged community with the know-how to recover rare earths and other important minerals from coal and by-products and create jobs.

The Pentagon and DOE have invested directly in some companies dealing with important minerals, but some in the industry are due to recipients’ ties to China and lack of established records. He said he was confused about his investment.

In November, the Pentagon announced that it would invest $ 2.3 million in a California-based company called TDA Magnets.

The TDA describes on its website that it is a manufacturer of magnets based in the United States. The company does not manufacture magnets, but imports blocks of rare earth-based magnetic materials, often from China, and then customized parts, according to those familiar with the issue and customs documents. Manufactured in.

The Pentagon is funding Australia-listed Lyans Rare Earths, which operates a factory in Malaysia.


Photo:

Lim Huey Teng / Reuters

Rare earth magnets can be key to military hardware such as missiles and aircraft, and in the United States, who can see where such components are manufactured and customized, and data related to their procurement. There are strict rules to manage.

According to public records and those familiar with the matter, TDA shares ownership and at least one manager with another company called Tridus Magnetics and Assembly, which is part of a joint venture with a Chinese magnet manufacturer.

The two share the compound in the Los Angeles area, and the call to TDA is answered by a message from Tridus.

According to people familiar with the matter, the Pentagon has not yet visited the site.

The Pentagon declined to comment on its relationship with China, but said it did not require a TDA to manufacture the magnets.

“TDA will research and develop a viable supply chain that can establish and maintain a safe domestic source of qualified rare earth magnetic materials,” a department spokeswoman said.

Neodymium is important for spinning Tesla wheels and creating sounds with Apple’s AirPods, and China dominates the mining and processing of this rare earth element. As a result, the United States and its allies are building their own supply chains. Photo Illustration: Clément Bürge / WSJ

The fact that China controls important minerals that mine and process most of the world’s rare earths means that the United States is difficult to avoid.

For example, the Pentagon is helping fund a rare earth treatment facility at the Mountain Pass mine in California. Shenghe Resources Holding Co., Ltd.

600392 0.93%

, China’s state-owned enterprise owns about 8% of its mine owner, MP Materials Corp.

Faced with a domestic shortage, the federal government is looking for an Allied power to help sponsor production and processing.

“The United States must work with allies and partners to ensure a reliable and sustainable supply of important minerals and materials,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

The Pentagon is helping to fund Linus rare earths that are already listed on Australia Co., Ltd.

LYC 1.47%

, Wants to build a rare earth processing plant in Texas. Elsewhere, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, a state-funded lender and investor, is based in Ireland for important mineral recycling projects at TechMet Ltd. Invested $ 25 million in.

Other governments are also looking to invest in rare earth projects.

Quebec authorities in Canada have invested approximately $ 1.5 million in Commerce Resources. Co., Ltd.

CCE 1.89%

, Also supported by the Government of Canada. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, the company has been in operation for over 20 years and has not yet mined or published a feasibility study of its assets.

Commerce Secretary Christopher Grove said the project took longer than expected but was affected by falling rare earth prices.

Mineral competition

More WSJ coverage selected by the editor.

The company said in 2018 that it had agreed to transfer a 75% stake in its key assets to another miner, Saville Resources. Co., Ltd.

If Saville spends $ 5 million on asset development in five years.

At the time, Mr Grove said in a statement that Saville’s CEO Mike Hodge was “very well known and appreciated by commerce.” Mr Grove did not reveal that Mike Hodge was his nephew and son of David Hodge, CEO of Commerce. The company also did not reveal that Mr. Grove and David Hodge own a stake in Saville.

International Financial Reporting Standards, which Commerce states to comply with, require intimate family relationships to be disclosed to investors.

Jody Belfleur, Chief Financial Officer of Commerce, said disclosures related to Saville’s transactions were approved by the company’s lawyers and auditors. She added that Mike Hodge of Saville had a long-standing experience with the Commerce project that no one else had.

A spokeswoman for Investissement Quebec, the state’s investment arm, said he was not informed about family relationships. The British Columbia Securities Commission declined to comment on individual companies.

Write to Alistair MacDonald (alistair.macdonald@wsj.com)

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The United States plans to spend heavily on important minerals.Choosing a place that is not easy

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