The global race for rare earth elements to fuel the electric car revolution

“This is something the UK, EU and the US need to look at very seriously to ensure there are one or more Western refinery,” warns Meyer.

Around four fifths of rare earth elements being imported into the US are from China, and Beijing threatens to capitalise on this overreliance.

China has hinted that it could take advantage of this stranglehold on US supply.

In May, Xi Jinping stoked tensions by making a high-profile visit to a rare earth metals production plant.

Meyer says China has “weaponised rare earth supply”.

“Basically, if you want access to significant quantities of rare earth for many years, you need to build a factory in China in order to be sure you’re going to get those raw materials,” he says.

It has even been claimed that this hunt for rare earth metals could have persuaded Donald Trump to seek talks with North Korea and enquire about buying Greenland, two areas thought to have abundant supplies.

Playing catch-up

The Pentagon’s scramble for the niche minerals also prompted secret discussions with London-listed rare earth miners earlier this year. 

US officials reportedly met with executives at Rainbow Rare Earths. The Pentagon also held meetings with Mkango Resources, whose goal to build a mine and processing plant in Malawi is still several years away.

However, the US is not the only country stepping up efforts to break China’s dominance of the critical minerals. This year, Australia put out a list of 15 projects to develop vital metals, including rare earths.

Australia also signed a deal with Washington in 2018 to extract, process and develop rare earths. The agreement includes a pledge to support joint research between the two economic powers.