Global mine production was estimated to have increased to 210,000t of REE oxide-equivalent, an 11% increase compared with that of 2018. China continued to dominate global supply of REEs, accounting for about 85% of total supply. The country's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said 2019 mine and separation production quotas were 132,000t and 127,000t, respectively.
The Donald Trump administration's 2019 Federal Strategy to Ensure a Reliable Supply of Critical Minerals focused on more than 30 "critical commodities" seen as crucial to America's economy and security. Most had 50% or higher levels of import reliance. The strategy directed the US Department of the Interior to locate domestic supplies of critical minerals, ensure access to information necessary to study and produce the minerals, and accelerate permitting for domestic projects.
In support of the federal strategy, the USGS launched its Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI) to acquire geologic, geophysical and topographic data to help characterise the distribution of critical minerals and identify areas in which more data would improve its understanding of undiscovered critical mineral resources.
To this end, the USGS will conduct at least one multi-commodity critical mineral resource assessment every two years, supplying the results to federal land managers and the public.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will work with partners such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop a method for assessing critical mineral potential in the federal offshore and exclusive economic zone.
US metal mine production in 2019 was estimated to be worth $28.1 billion, or almost $500 million more than in 2018. The main contributors to the total value of metal mine production in 2018 were gold (32%), copper (28%), iron ore (19%) and zinc (7%).
In 2019, the estimated total value of non-fuel mineral production in the US was $86.3 billion, an increase of 3% from the upwardly revised total of $84 billion in 2018.
North American REE supply chains
The US government is putting up millions of dollars for the construction of processing plants in North America, and Canadian companies are eligible to apply. The US Air Force Research Laboratory recently announced it was planning to award an estimated $40 million in matching funds to companies that could separate and process anywhere from 500-5,000t of REEs annually.
Medallion Resources, which plans to produce magnet metals, said on Monday it had received multiple enquiries from several REE refineries interested in receiving specifications and potential volumes of the company's REE concentrate product in response to the US Department of Defence's funding opportunity announcement.
"Medallion's proposed US-based REE process plant is well-suited to provide a high-quality feedstock for separation by either existing or future refining facilities," the company said.
In December, Texas Mineral Resources Corp and partner USA Rare Earth started a pilot process plant in Colorado with the goal to separate and purify REEs and other tech metals leached from ore from the partnership's Round Top project, just outside El Paso, Texas.
The ion exchange-ion chromatographic methodology being deployed was previously used by TMRC to separate and purify rare earths for the US Department of Defence, thus de-risking the basis for the pilot plant.
California-based MP Materials operates the largest rare earths mine in the US but ships its ore to China for most of the processing.