Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) last week introduced legislation to promote the domestic production of rare earth elements—metals and their compounds that are used in high-temperature superconducting technologies, windmills, and battery technologies. China currently controls a majority of that market.

The Rare Earth Supply Technology and Resources Transformation (RESTART) Act would help the U.S. regain its position as a leader in the mining and processing of rare earths elements, Murkowski said.
“America’s growing reliance on foreign minerals endangers our efforts to advance cleaner energy,” Murkowski said. “We have slowly but surely surrendered the front end of the clean energy supply chain.”
The U.S. is estimated to have 15% of the world’s rare earth reserves, but the nation remains dependent upon China for imports of nearly all of these critical materials.
“Rather than further restrict mining in this country, the industry could be creating American jobs and producing minerals that are essential to clean energy technologies. Unless action is taken, we will trade our current dependence on foreign oil for an equally unsettling dependence on foreign minerals,” Murkowski said.
Rare earths are a group of 17 elements that are increasingly vital to a host of modern defense and clean energy technologies, including radar systems, modern weaponry, advanced batteries, next-generation vehicles, high-efficiency lighting, and wind turbines.
“China accounts for 97 percent of global rare earth production and has held clean energy manufacturing hostage by limiting exports. As a direct result, we risk a future in which wind turbines, solar panels, advanced batteries and geothermal steam turbines are not made in the USA, but somewhere else,” Murkowski said.
The new legislation comes on the heels of two resolutions passed by the Alaska state Legislature urging Congress to advance development of new rare earth reserves in the U.S. Ucore Uranium and its subsidiary, RareEarth One, plan to drill 5,000 feet of new core samples this year at their Bokan Mountain site in Alaska to improve mineral estimates.

This March, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, (R-Colo.) introduced a companion measure (H.R. 4866) that has attracted bipartisan support in the U.S. House.

For an in-depth look at rare earths in the power industry see “Rare Earth and Lithium Supplies Cloud Renewables,” in MANAGING POWER’s March 2010 issue.

Source: Sen. Lisa Murkowski, MANAGING POWER