OP-Ed: How to create a secure and resilient national supply chain for rare earth elements 

Crystallized rare earth sediments. (Stock Image)

It’s a well-known fact that China has a strong hold over the current supply chain for rare earth elements (REE) that make up critical technologies like EVs, cellphones, and military equipment, to name a few. But beyond simply stating that we need to shift our reliance away from China and begin building robust domestic supply chains, what are the tangible, actionable steps that will get us there?  

That is precisely what we’re exploring as we dive into what we must do to create a secure and resilient supply chain for REEs as well as discussing some of the existing roadblocks we must overcome to achieve this vision. 

Increasing our mining and processing capacity 

The reality is that to minimize our dependency on sources like China (which currently controls upwards of 85% of the world’s production of REE), we need to delegate further resources and efforts towards increasing our mining capacity as well as our processing capacity domestically. All supply chains start with mining—because, of course, we need to secure the critical raw materials—but it’s not enough to get the materials; we also need processing facilities that can handle the materials in an environmentally sustainable way and at a competitive cost.  

An ongoing issue in our existing REE supply chain is that we can mine the materials, but then there is a lack of infrastructure when it comes to processing. As a result, much of our REE is still sent to China for processing, and until we can address this chink in the chain, we will not see a completely secure and resilient national supply chain for REE.  

Expertise development  

Beyond addressing our mining and processing capacity, something else to consider is continually working to develop our industry expertise. In other words, investing in specialized education and training programs focused on material processing is crucial for building a skilled future workforce capable of innovating new technologies and processes to enhance supply chain resilience.  

By fostering collaboration between industry, academia, and government, we can accelerate the development of sustainable and efficient methods for processing critical raw materials while mitigating environmental impacts and ensuring long-term availability.  

Government support and shorter permitting 

One of the biggest hurdles the industry is currently facing is the time it takes to fully permit a mine—in some cases, it can take seven or more years. Efficiently streamlining the permitting process for mining operations is imperative to bolstering the competitiveness of the Western mining sector.  

Governments must focus on developing regulatory frameworks that strike a balance between upholding stringent environmental standards and expediting approval timelines through adopting digital platforms and concurrent review processes.  

Additionally, directing government funding towards research grants and tax incentives while fostering public-private partnerships is vital for catalyzing innovation within the mining industry. By prioritizing these strategies, governments can ensure a sustainable and resilient mining industry poised for long-term success. 

None of this change will happen overnight—it will be a gradual process that requires concerted efforts from governments, industry stakeholders, and the public alike. However, by committing to these tangible steps, we can lay the foundation for a secure and resilient national supply chain for REE.  

It’s not just about reducing our dependency on external sources; it’s about fostering innovation, sustainability, and long-term prosperity for generations to come. 

(Dr. Luisa Moreno is a Physics Engineer, an analyst in rare earths and president of Defense Metals)