Biden set to tout U.S. progress on critical minerals production

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FILE PHOTO - U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Russia-Ukraine situation
FILE PHOTO – U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his administration’s efforts to pursue deterrence and diplomacy in response to Russia’s military buildup on the border of Ukraine, from the White House in Washington, U.S., February 18, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

February 22, 2022

By Jeff Mason and Ernest Scheyder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday plans to tout progress by government and private industry to boost American production of minerals used to make electric vehicles, cell phones, weaponry and a range of related electronics, the White House said.

Washington has grown increasingly concerned that low U.S. production of minerals essential for the construction of future technologies could leave it beholden to China and other nations that have heavily invested in mining.

That has sparked a range of attempts by Biden, as well as his predecessors, to boost U.S. output of these strategic minerals while balancing opposition to mining from environmental and indigenous groups.

“Critical minerals provide the building blocks for many modern technologies and are essential to our national security and economic prosperity,” the White House said in a statement.

Biden will announce the U.S. Defense Department has awarded MP Materials Inc $35 million to process rare earths, which are used to make magnets found in consumer goods and weapons, the White House said.

The Pentagon has already awarded roughly $10 million to MP, which controls the only U.S. rare earths mine but depends on China for processing.

Las Vegas-based MP Materials will announce it will invest $700 million in its own funds and create more than 350 jobs by 2024, the White House said.

MP Materials declined to comment ahead of the White House announcement. The company’s chief executive, Jim Litinsky, is set to participate virtually. MP has said it aims to begin processing rare earths in California by the end of the year.

Additionally, Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables will announce it plans to break ground this spring on a California facility to test sustainable ways to produce lithium from geothermal brines.

That announcement, the White House said, would be part of a multibillion dollar investment in sustainable lithium production over the next five years.

Biden will also announce that the Pentagon plans to boost its stockpile of strategic minerals, a development that Reuters reported last week.

Biden, who is navigating the U.S. response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, is slated to hold a virtual event with industry and labor leaders, as well as California Governor Gavin Newsom, to discuss the issue.

Even as he works to boost U.S. minerals production, the president has blocked several proposed U.S. mines.

Last month, the Biden administration blocked a proposed Minnesota copper mine from Antofagasta Plc. It has also taken steps to slow down development of a lithium mine in Nevada from ioneer Ltd and a copper mine in Arizona from Rio Tinto Ltd.

Biden himself has said little about why his administration has blocked some mines while touting the need to boost domestic production of critical minerals.

Other announcements at the event include one from Redwood Materials Inc, which the White House said would discuss a pilot project with Ford Motor Co and Volvo to collect and recycle end-of-life lithium-ion batteries in Nevada to extract lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm also will tout a $140 million pilot project to recover rare earth elements and other minerals from coal ash, with funding from Biden’s recently passed infrastructure law.

The White House will tout an agreement between Talon Metals Corp and the United Steelworkers to train workers in northern Minnesota near Talon’s Tamarack nickel project. Talon signed a nickel supply deal with Tesla Inc last month.

Talon has also agreed to remain neutral in any union organizing effort, the White House said. Biden has been a large supporter of organized labor throughout his presidency.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and Ernest Scheyder in Houston; Editing by Robert Birsel)





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