The White House on Tuesday announced new plans for mining and recycling minerals in the US to ease the supply chain shortage and wean the country off reliance on foreign supplies of rare earth materials.
The pandemic’s impact on supply chains has led to shortages affecting many industries, but computer chip shortages have kept everything from video game consoles to new automobiles out of customers’ reach, and it may not get better until 2023 or 2024.
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Big tech companies are opening chip factories on US soil to challenge Taiwan’s dominance of the world’s chip market, but the US needs a supply of precious materials to make all that silicon. The efforts President Joe Biden announced Tuesday are meant to do just that.
The first of those efforts is a multi-billion-dollar experiment by conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway’s renewable energy division to draw lithium from deep under California’s deserts. If the effort is successful, the plant could start production in 2026 and produce 90,000 metric tons of lithium each year. That could lead California to provide up to a third of global lithium demand, the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Tuesday.
Another California company, MP Materials, will receive $35 million in federal funding to start producing magnets used in electric vehicle motors, electronics and wind turbines. China currently produces 87% of the world’s magnets, which are a key component in those products, according to a White House press release.
The US won’t just ramp up its production of tech-necessary materials — it’ll develop better ways of recovering them from the junk heap, Biden said. Redwood Materials, a Nevada company headed by Tesla co-founder J.B. Straubel that recycles electric vehicle batteries, will partner with Ford and Volvo to harvest batteries for lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite.
Finally, the White House is looking to recover rare earth minerals from coal ash and mining waste, a $140 million project funded by Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which passed last fall. That’s in addition to $3 billion in funding from the infrastructure bill dedicated to refining the design and production of batteries, which the Department of Energy announced earlier in February.
Ultimately, the goal of these efforts is to make the US less reliant on foreign sources of minerals and materials needed to fuel domestic production of chips and other tech. While Biden touted other benefits like generating more well-paying jobs in the US, improving the country’s self-sufficiency to produce components needed for gadgets and products also improves national security.