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Remarks of ASFE Steven Winberg as prepared at the Critical Minerals/Rare Earth Elements USEA Webinar on August 25, 2020

 

Thank you and good afternoon.

 

Today we’ll discuss the challenges and progress we’re making on the development of critical minerals and rare earth elements.  But we’ll be doing so without our friend and colleague Barry Worthington, who passed away on August 14.

 

Barry was a driving force in the energy community, and a champion for American energy development and security.  Under his leadership the USEA became the powerful voice for U.S. energy that it is today.

 

But more than that, for many of us Barry was a friend and we miss him.  My condolences go to his wife and family – and his many friends who are mourning his passing, especially his colleagues at USEA who have worked so hard to put this event together.  Thank you for your commitment and your efforts during this difficult time. 

 

I also want to thank Traci Rodosta and all of those who will contribute to the discussions today.

 

Today, the United States is import-reliant on 31 of 35 critical minerals. And China now supplies the United States with about 80 percent of one important category of those minerals, known as rare earth elements. 

 

This was not always the case. In the past, we were able to produce the bulk of critical minerals the United States needed here at home. But no longer. China controls not only most global mining/extracting of REE, but the processing of those resources as well.

 

There have been efforts by industry and the government to meet this challenge and to move our country away from dependence on foreign sources of critical minerals.  President Trump issued an Executive Order to coordinate all this work in December of 2017.  The purpose of Executive Order (EO) 13817, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals, is reducing our Nation’s reliance on foreign sources of critical minerals and on foreign supply chains.

 

The Department of Energy has been carrying out important research and development on critical minerals.  The focus of Fossil Energy’s Critical Minerals and Rare Earth Elements program is diversifying supply. The program is developing and validating technologies throughout the supply chain, from exploration through processing and separation to metallization. We are working to identify and extract rare earths and other critical materials from previously untapped sources, such as carbon ore or coal. And Fossil Energy will continue to work with our university and industry partners – many of you here today – to develop rare earth elements and other critical minerals from carbon ore and its byproducts. 

 

As you will hear today, the current bench- and small-scale projects have been very successful.  With the R&D from the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s Research and Innovation Center, we are well on our way to validating the feasibility of producing rare earth elements and other critical minerals from carbon ore feedstocks.

 

The future is bright for R&D for critical minerals. As you may have heard, DOE is planning to spend $122 million for basin research that will establish coal innovation centers through the new Carbon Ore, Rare Earths, and Critical Minerals Initiative.  These innovation centers will focus on manufacturing value-added, carbon-based products from carbon ore and develop new methods to extract and process rare earths and critical minerals.

 

The good news is that carbon ore holds a lot of potential in the United States.  Our vast coal resources – the largest reserves in the world – are an extremely promising source of rare earth elements and other critical minerals.  Initial assessments performed by DOE and NETL estimate that coal deposits in Appalachia—including West Virginia—could hold nearly 5 million metric tonnes of rare earths.  And we estimate that coal deposits in western state basins - in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado - could produce 6 million metric tons of rare earths.

 

This could develop a whole new value proposition and lead to new industries in coal basins. Building on successful past experience with small-scale rare earths projects, which you will hear about today, the Office of Fossil Energy has initiated the first steps for developing large-scale pilot facilities that will produce at least 1-3 tonnes (MT) per day of mixed rare earth oxides or rare earth salts extracted from carbon ore- and other feedstocks.

 

The world is undergoing a period of significant economic uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic. How the pandemic-induced economic downturn may affect the scope of investment in the critical mineral and rare earth industry is unknown, but it will be a factor for some time in the future.

 

So, the challenge we’re facing requires all hands on deck. 

 

We need to harness the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of the private sector – to secure a reliable domestic supply of critical minerals and rare earth elements.

 

For the private sector, that means increased domestic exploration, production, recycling, and reprocessing of critical minerals.  And the federal government must expedite and enable exploration, mining, concentration, separation, alloying, recycling, and reprocessing of critical minerals.  The partnerships and projects we’re discussing today are critical to helping us get where we need to be.

 

A coordinated strategy turned the United States from depending on foreign energy suppliers to becoming the world leader in energy production. We achieved energy independence through American ingenuity; now we must use our ingenuity to make a new market here at home for critical minerals and rare earth elements. America has led an energy revolution before, and we intend to do that again.

 

Now let me introduce you to Traci Rodosta from our Fossil Energy office, who will give you an overview of the Critical Minerals program.