DOD to Establish ‘Mine-to-Magnet’ Supply Chain for Rare Earth Materials

by Carolyn Mathas

The Defense Department is developing domestic supply chains to ensure continued access to rare earth materials needed to manufacture permanent magnets used in critical US military weapons systems.  The department plans to guide the creation of a modernized defense industrial ecosystem, as it states it cannot afford to rely on overseas, single-points-of-failure for critical components.

Rare earth permanent magnets are essential in a range of defense capabilities, including the F-35 Lightning II aircraft, Virginia and Columbia class submarines, uncrewed aerial vehicles, Tomahawk missiles, and radar systems, as well as a critical part of commercial applications in the United States. They also generate electricity for electronic systems in aircraft and focus microwave energy in radar systems. The F-35 requires more than 900 pounds of rare earth elements, an Arleigh Burke DDG-51 destroyer requires 5,200 pounds, and a Virginia class submarine needs 9,200 pounds.

Since 2020, the DOD awarded more than $439 million to establish domestic rare earth element supply chains. This includes separating and refining rare earth elements mined in the US and developing downstream stateside processes needed to convert those refined materials into metals and then magnets.  It claims it is on track to meet the goal of a sustainable, mine-to-magnet supply chain capable of supporting all US defense requirements by 2027.

The Manufacturing Capability Expansion and Investment Program directorate has embarked on a five-year rare earth investment strategy to build “mine-to-magnet” domestic capacity at all critical nodes of the rare earth supply chain, including sourcing, separation, processing, metallization, alloying, and magnet manufacturing.

MP Materials is among the US-based companies involved in DOD’s “mine-to-magnets” initiative. With $45 million in support from MCEIP awards, the company established the US’s only integrated rare earth mine and oxide production facility. Domestic and partner demand for rare earth materials outpaces the production of any single partner nation. To build resiliency in these critical, early stages of the supply chain, Lynas USA, LLC was awarded a combined $288 million in MCEIP funding to establish a second domestic, commercial-scale oxide production capability by 2026.  MCEIP has also invested $10 million to explore the development of extraction technology and alternative sources of rare earth minerals from coal ash, acid mine drainage, and other waste streams.

Noveon Magnetics has established a rare earth magnet manufacturing facility in San Marcos, Texas, with a $28.8 million award from MCEIP. The company produces qualified magnets from extracted or recycled material for defense and commercial applications.  An additional award of $2.3 million from MCEIP helped TDA Magnetics to demonstrate a capability to source, produce, and sell qualified magnets into DOD supply chains.  Finally, with a $94.1 million award, E-VAC Magnetics will establish a commercial-scale rare earth magnet manufacturing capability by 2025 and develop domestic capacity to produce rare earth metals and alloys, a critical supply chain node linking early-stage rare earth processing to magnet production.

The awards from the Defense Department are expected to help develop the domestic market for magnet production, which will serve both defense and commercial markets.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy