Australia considers funding for rare earths projects — minister

Browns Range pilot plant is Australia’s first heavy rare earths facility. (Image courtesy of Northern Minerals)

Australia is considering underwriting loans to develop its reserves of critical minerals such as rare earths and is seeking partners with a large customer base like the United States, its resources minister said on Wednesday.

The move comes as the United States looks to reduce its reliance on China for supplies of rare earths, a handful of minerals used in everything from mobile phones to wind turbines, partly by forming alliances with “friendly” suppliers.

Australia’s Lynas Corp is the world’s largest producer of rare earths outside China, but a handful of other projects have been struggling for finance to start production.

“We are certainly open to looking at how we can provide some sort of government support, underwriting, concession finance … we do see this as a national priority,” Resources Minister Matt Canavan said on the sidelines of a mining conference.

“But we do want to do it in cooperation with other countries. It’s not something we can do on our own because we are not a large customer of these types of minerals.”

Australia is aiming to develop six critical mineral industries that it sees as key to future technologies and where it has large mineral reserves. These include rare earths as well as cobalt, a key material in electric vehicle batteries, and tungsten and niobium, used in steel alloys.

Canavan said U.S. President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison discussed a joint action plan on critical minerals development when they met earlier this year.

He has raised the issue in Japan and Korea in recent months and is heading to the United States for further talks with government that may include agreements over funding.

“We are hopeful something will be done by the end of the year,” he said.

(By Melanie Burton; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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