US Government invests $32 million in domestic rare earth elements supply

July 18, 2023

Rare earth elements and other critical minerals are key to manufacturing clean energy technologies including electric vehicles (Courtesy US Department of Energy)
Rare earth elements and other critical minerals are key to manufacturing clean energy technologies including electric vehicles (Courtesy US Department of Energy)

In support of US President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced $32 million for projects that will build facilities which produce rare earth elements and other critical minerals and materials from US coal-based resources. The funding, provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is expected to strengthen US domestic supply chains, helping the country meet growing demand for critical minerals and reduce reliance on overseas sources.

Rare earth elements and other critical minerals are key to manufacturing clean energy technologies in America – such as solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cells. Coal and coal production waste is said to contain a wide variety of valuable rare earth elements that can be converted into clean energy technology components.

“President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is providing a historic opportunity to convert coal products into the critical materials needed to build an array of clean energy products,” said Jennifer M Granholm, US Secretary of Energy. “The President’s transformative investments will strengthen our national security by lessening our dependence on international supply chains while delivering high-quality jobs and healthier communities for all Americans.”

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Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED) studies for production of critical minerals and materials from coal-based resources funding opportunity announcement

The United States currently imports more than 80% of its rare earth elements from non-domestic suppliers. The funding opportunity announcement seeks to tap the resources available to help build a domestic supply chain critical to the US economy, clean energy, and national security. The programme funds research, development, and demonstration projects that support the development of intermediate- and/or demonstration-scale facilities for domestic production and refining of rare earth elements and other critical minerals across the country.

The FEED studies will establish and define technical requirements focused on project scope, schedule, and costs, and reduce risk during the construction and operation of the future facilities. These facilities will also help to create healthier environments for local communities by using the US’s national sources of coal and coal by-products to extract, separate, and produce rare earth elements and other critical minerals and materials. These include more than 250 billion tons of coal reserves, over 4 billion tons of waste coal, and about 2 billion tons of coal ash at various sites across the country.

Funding applicants must carefully address the societal considerations and impacts of their proposed projects, emphasising early and active engagement with communities.

Applicants must explain how projects are expected to deliver economic and environmental benefits and mitigate impacts; conduct community and stakeholder engagement; incorporate diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; and promote workforce development and quality jobs. Projects selected under this opportunity will be required to develop and implement strategies to ensure strong community and worker benefits, and report on such activities and outcomes.

Those interested in receiving this funding may apply via the FedConnect portal. Submission deadline is September 11, 2023.

DOE’s Advancements in Critical Minerals and Materials

Since January 2021, DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management has invested more than $41 million in projects that support resource identification and production of rare earth elements and other critical minerals and materials in traditional fossil fuel-producing communities across the country. This total includes $16 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding for detailed engineering and cost studies toward a first-of-a-kind domestic facility that will extract and separate rare earth elements and critical minerals from unconventional sources like mining waste. This funding is expected to create new opportunities to remediate land and water while generating rare earth elements necessary for a clean energy economy.

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