America is facing a crisis in rare earth elements.. Can it reduce China’s hegemony over it?

The indispensable rare earth minerals are increasingly important in many key industries in the transition to the sustainable energy revolution. From wind turbines to electric cars, rare earths are incorporated into modern military technology, such as radar systems and precision-guided munitions; Therefore, companies around the world are in constant need of more of these elements to work on future technologies, with the continued technological progress in these areas.

According to a report published by the “National Interest” magazine (National interest) that the Chinese government has allocated enormous financial and political resources to control the global rare earths market; This resulted in significant gains for the Chinese economy, which now controls 85% of the global rare earth processing market. Thanks to decades of financial and institutional support, Chinese refiners have developed the technology and skills to refine rare earths at a much lower price than the United States and other countries.

And seek China To take advantage of its monopoly on these rare elements to achieve its foreign policy goals, Beijing is facing intense competition from the West, in an effort to limit its control over the export of rare earth minerals, by concluding many international deals recently.

According to a report by “Quartz” (Quartz) that the United States, Europe, Australia and Japan cooperate to produce rare earth minerals.

Realizing the danger of its dependence on China in the field of rare minerals, the United States took the initiative to intensify the process of extracting these minerals inside the country, and the entry of new competitors into the market with the increasing demand; This led to the decline of China’s dominance in production from 90 to 70%.

Long strides

The report of the American magazine indicated that former President Donald Trump signed an executive order to increase the domestic production of rare earth elements for military technology, and the current President Joe Biden’s administration noted in its annual threat assessment for the year 2023 that China’s dominance in the critical minerals market could pose a great danger to the manufacturing and consumer sectors. in the United States and the West.

And the US Department of Defense granted $ 10 million to the “MB Materials” company, which operates one of the rare earth mines in America, and US President Joe Biden signed Executive Order No. (14051) to ensure that there is sufficient stock of rare earths for national security purposes, and yet these policies Insufficient to address the current hegemony of China.

The report indicated that the time frame for Biden’s current investments in mining and extraction will take a long time to be achieved, as a study from 2010 to 2019 found that rare earth mines took more than 16 years from initial discovery to production, explaining that the process takes this long because it usually takes 12 years to conduct feasibility studies for potential mining sites, followed by 4 years of construction; An urgent shortage of rare earths means that the United States cannot count on opening new mines and seeing existing problems disappear immediately.

The Biden administration will face the need to identify the rare earth elements it needs and prioritize them to ensure national security, as not all rare earth elements are equal. Some rare-earth elements, such as yttrium, are essential for munitions, while others, such as neodymium, are more useful in powering electric vehicles.

Given the time frame and the severity of the shortage, the Biden administration needs to prioritize this research, by understanding the type and quantity of some rare earths, and developing the optimal rare earth policy for the economic and national security of the United States.

strong Chinese hegemony

There is no doubt that rare earth elements drive the global economy, as countries that control the capabilities of rare earth elements refining will be able to determine the future environmental, economic and military capabilities of their country and its allies.

While Chinese actors in the rare earths sector are working to establish their feet in global markets, other countries are making slow progress in rebuilding supply chains for rare earths for a single purpose. It is loosening China’s grip on these precious metals.

China still enjoys significant advantages in view of the extent of its industry. In addition to mining its own raw materials, it dominates all other stages in the long industrial chain of producing rare earths of high purity.

One solution for the West to compete with China is to develop technologies that require fewer rare earths, to better reduce any dependence on China.

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