Rare Earth Elements (REE) are a group of 17 metallic elements that are critical for modern technologies, renewable energy, and military applications. As the United States and the rest of the world shift away from fossil fuels and toward green technologies, demand for Rare Earth Elements is expected to grow tremendously. Rare Earth Elements are found sporadically around the globe, however, economic viability has limited extraction to a few major mines mostly located in China. Following U.S. Executive Order 14017, the United States is beginning to break away from reliance on China and strengthen domestic supply chain resiliency, especially for Rare Earths.
On February 22, 2022, the U.S. Geological Survey, a branch of the U.S. Department of Interior, released its 2022 final list of critical minerals. Amongst this list of 50 elements deemed essential to U.S. economic and security interests are all 17 Rare Earths, a group of magnetic and luminescent elements that consist of the lanthanide series, Scandium, and Yttrium. These metals possess unique geochemical properties that make them necessary in the development of military equipment, renewable energy technologies, semiconductors, electric vehicle batteries, and high-tech consumer products.
Although dubbed “Rare Earth”, deposits are common in the Earth’s crust and are more abundant on average in the Earth’s crust than silver, gold, or platinum. However, the high environmental impact and financial costs of extracting the isolated minerals are burdensome, limiting excavation to a few large mines located primarily in China. As the majority of these metals are sourced from outside of the United States, disruption of supply poses a severe risk to U.S. national security, economic interests, and supply chain resiliency. Furthermore, with the Biden Administration’s plans to push the United States towards net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, securing a stable supply of Rare Earth will also be essential to U.S. decarbonization efforts as Rare Earths are primary components of electric vehicle and hybrid batteries, high capacity generators, wind turbines, and solar panels. To address these concerns, the Biden-Harris Administration passed Executive Order 14017 on February 24th, 2021, establishing a 100-day strategic supply chain review for major critical mineral and material supply chains.