The US Army plans to fund construction of rare earths processing facilities, part of an urgent push by Washington to secure domestic supply of the minerals used to make military weapons and electronics, Reuters reports, citing a government document.
The move would mark the first financial investment by the US military into commercial-scale rare earths production since World War Two’s Manhattan Project built the first atomic bomb, the report noted.
It comes after President Donald Trump earlier this year ordered the military to update its supply chain for the niche materials, warning that reliance on other nations for the strategic minerals could hamper US defenses.
China, which refines most of the world’s rare earths, has threatened to stop exporting the specialized minerals to the US, using its monopoly as a cudgel in the ongoing trade spat between the two nations.
The Army division overseeing munitions last month asked miners for proposals on the cost of a pilot plant to produce so-called heavy rare earths, a less-common type of the specialized minerals that are highly sought after for use in weaponry, according to a document seen by Reuters.
Responses are due by Dec. 16. UCore, Texas Mineral Resources Corp and a joint venture between Lynas Corp and privately-held Blue Line Corp are among the expected respondents.
The Army said it will fund up to two-thirds of a refiner’s cost and that it would fund at least one project and potentially more. Applicants must provide a detailed business plan and specify where they will source their ore, among other factors.
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