It’s the mines-to-missiles movement. The Department of Defense has long anguished over the need to domestically produce the magnets it uses in high-tech weaponry and computer systems, rather than importing from industry leader China.
On Tuesday, the feds put their money where their mouth is and awarded Las Vegas-based MP Materials $35 million to build a domestic plant that will turn the rare earth materials it digs out of its mine into the magical metal.
Mine, Mine, Mine!
MP owns the US’s only rare earth mine in Mountain Pass, California, but still relies on Chinese factories to turn the raw materials it unearths into the magnets needed to keep smartphones, laptops, and laser-guided missiles operational.
The unsteady state of supply chains has Uncle Sam yearning for a one-stop, American shop for all magnetic needs, resulting in the latest government windfall for MP:
- Tuesday’s $35 million grant comes after the Pentagon sent about $10 million to MP back in 2020, and the company is investing $700 million of its own funds into the new plant near its mine — a move it says will create 350 jobs.
- A bill introduced to Congress in August would offer tax credits to companies producing rare earth magnets in the United States and a bigger credit to those made with American-sourced rare earths, adding another incentive for businesses like MP to kickstart production.
Not Just Magnets: Rare earth magnets aren’t the only materials needed to ensure America’s technological and locomotive future is secure. Lithium is required for the production of electric car batteries, and Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables is hoping to hit pay dirt (or pay water) by sustainably extracting it from the geothermal brine in California’s Salton Sea — giving the United States a potential lithium mother lode.
Ne’re Rare: There’s no need to worry that the US’s attraction to rare earth materials puts its technological needs in jeopardy. Despite the name, the minerals actually aren’t that hard to find, and are as common on Earth as copper or lead.