In 2021, a more than 70-year-old mine in California’s Mojave Desert will become the center of an effort to revive an American mineral refining system that some say is critical to the country’s national security.
At issue is the availability of rare-earth metals, which are needed for hybrid electric cars, smartphones and certain types of military equipment. In fact, the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act directs most Pentagon systems to use rare earth metals that have been mined and refined outside of China within five years and dictates that the federal government give preference to U.S. suppliers of these materials in government acquisitions.
As part of the U.S. government’s strategy to ensure safe and reliable supplies of critical minerals, the Defense Department has recently announced contracts and agreements with several rare-earth element producers. Among them is MP Materials, owner and operator of Mountain Pass mine, the only rare earth mining site in North America.
Seventeen elements deemed critical to modern society were discovered at the Mountain Pass deposit, which, shortly after its discovery by American engineers in 1949, came to provide more than half of the world’s needs for rare earth minerals.