The recent, ongoing global supply chain disruptions have impacted the lives of Americans through inflated prices and delayed goods.
As discussions around an overreliance on foreign supply chains and critical minerals are ongoing, President Biden recently announced a plan to invoke the Defense Production Act. The Administration’s goal is to spur greater domestic output of raw materials for clean-energy technology products and to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign supply chains.
To help the federal government better understand domestic processing capabilities, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) submitted comments to the Department of Energy’s Fossil Energy and Carbon Management Office (FECM) in response to their Request for Information (RFI) on the creation of a domestic rare earth element (REE) and critical mineral (CM) demonstration facility.
In our comments, NEMA outlined five key thoughts:
- Addressing climate change means strengthening U.S. supply chains. The United States set the robust clean-energy goals of a 100 percent carbon-free electricity sector by 2035 and a net-zero emissions economy by 2050. NEMA highlighted meeting those timelines will require a robust and resilient supply chain. The country must address and strengthen U.S. supply chains so they are running to a point of predictably delivering necessary materials to transitioning markets. NEMA suggested reorganizing the supply chain itself and investing in research and development projects, such as a REE Demonstration Facility, to achieve optimal supply chain resilience.
- The historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) will help propel electrification of the American economy. In our comments, NEMA suggested FECM considers how the Law’s investment can address – and expand – the country’s capacity for processing REEs and CMs. If the United States is going to have a chance at achieving its clean-energy goals, critical minerals will need to be involved. But, as the world undergoes an energy transition, the demand for these minerals will not only come from the United States, it will come from the entire world, experts note.
- U.S. Manufacturers rely on the continuous availability of multiple REEs and CMs. Currently, even when REEs and CMs are domestically mined, they are shipped overseas for processing, before being sold back here in more expensive products. For context, more than 80 percent of the nation’s REEs are imported; with China extracting roughly 65 percent of REEs but processing about 85 percent. Furthermore, NEMA identified, not only do manufacturers need the minerals for production, but the REEs and CMs are also key components in many of the commercial and consumer goods being used to decarbonize and modernize American infrastructure today – such as advanced aircrafts, wind turbines, semiconductors, hydrogen fuel cells, and electric vehicles.
- NEMA supports efforts to increase domestic supply of REEs and CMs in an environmentally conscious, equitable, and economically efficient manner. NEMA noted the facility is being considered the “first-of-a-kind” in terms of producing rare earth elements and critical minerals from unconventional sources, such as coal waste. By cleaning up the legacy waste left behind from coal mining and related activities, the country can gain access to a wide variety of valuable minerals and materials. Across the United States, there are billions of tons of legacy waste and ash, acid mine drainage, and produced water. All of those individual locations offer an untapped resource for producing a wealth of critical minerals.
- The Demonstration Facility is an opportunity for America to showcase the best it has to offer. The structure itself models how the convergence of modern technology and building design can achieve decarbonization goals – practically and to scale. NEMA encouraged FECM to prioritize and incorporate technologies in the facility that further other decarbonization policy outcomes. And in addition to expanding the RFI’s scope to include processing, NEMA recommends FECM incorporate capable and available domestic entities which can facilitate smaller workflows within the extraction process – pushing the country closer to its decarbonization goal.
NEMA believes the greatest outcome to be gained from this demonstration facility is insight on how domestic extraction and processing can be amplified broadly across this industry sector. While the facility may focus on the extraction of a few specific REEs and CMs, the outcomes and knowledge gained from this project should not be limited to just those materials.
Access to domestically produced REEs and CMs would provide greater resilience to supply chains which incorporate these products. It would also reduce the added site-to-source greenhouse gas and carbon emissions created by an extended supply chain.
A country running on clean energy is possible, we just need to be willing to find the avenues that offer the most sustainability, longevity, and opportunity. And legacy waste may lead us there.
You can read NEMA's full comments here.
By Spencer Pederson, Vice President of Public Affairs, NEMA