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US DoD pushes for domestic production of critical, rare earths

MP Materials is building a rare earths separation facility in Mountain Pass, California. (MP Materials)

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is pushing for increased domestic production of lithium and nickel, agreeing to funnel a total of USD110.6 million to support the reopening of US-based mining operations for the critical materials.

The USD90 million lithium production initiative is being spearheaded by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Industrial Base Policy, and funding for the effort was pulled from the Biden administration's Inflation Reduction Act, which was approved by the US Congress in 2022.

As part of the deal, DoD's Manufacturing Capability Expansion and Investment Prioritization (MCEIP) office will provide the finds to North Carolina-based Albemarle Corporation “to support the expansion of domestic mining and production of lithium”, according to an initial 12 September Pentagon statement.

The Pentagon-led effort on domestic nickel production, which is also being overseen by the MCEIP, is financed through the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, a second, separate 12 September statement issued by the DoD said. The USD20.6 million project will assist Minnesota-based Talon Nickel (USA) LLC in developing “advanced nickel exploration and mineral resource definition” at the Tamarack Intrusive Complex (TIC).

Lithium is a vital component to lithium-ion batteries, which are not only used for wireless devices for the commercial sector but are also integral to powering mobile communications, command and control (C2), and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) end-user devices for the US armed forces.

Nickel is also a critical element to the production of lithium-ion batteries, as well as “high-temperature aerospace alloys, stainless steel, and chemicals” used in the development of DoD combat systems, according to the second 12 September statement by the Pentagon on the effort.

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