When American Rare Earths, an Australian company, found a massive cache of rare earth elements (REEs) in Wyoming, it was a huge deal. 

The term “rare earths” is a bit of a misnomer, as some of the 17 minerals classified on the list are somewhat common. What makes them unique is their use across many specialized products – including some that could propel the U.S. toward its renewable energy goals. 

Products containing rare earth elements surround us, from smartphones and other electronics to lasers, permanent magnets, batteries, and renewable energy products. While the U.S. hurtles toward its goal of generating 100% pollution-free power by 2035, wind energy, solar energy, and other renewables take on increased focus. REEs could be the key to a greener future. 

Though American Rare Earths has more work to do before opening its mine, the discovery alone is enough to be a global game-changer. 

What’s All the Excitement About? 

It should not be understated how HUGE the REE deposit is in Halleck Creek – and ARE’s latest estimate has increased since the site’s last exploration. 

In its February 2024 technical paper, American Rare Earths estimated in-situ material deposits (Latin phrasing for “on site”) to be about 2.34 billion tonnes at nearly 3,200 ppm Total Rare Earth Oxides, based on a scale with a 1,000ppm TREO threshold. Best yet, the estimates are an astounding 64% increase in tonnes compared to tests performed last year. 

American Rare Earth’s report tosses some large numbers around, but what do they mean? 

First, the site would be among the largest REE sources in North America, joining several massive sites recently found in the United States. It also has large amounts of moderately high-grade magnet rare earths near the surface, which are easier to access and mine quickly. 

Allanite is the most common mineral found at the Halleck Creek site. This sorosilicate (a compound featuring two silicate tetrahedrons – a silicon atom with four oxygen atoms attached) often contains elements like cerium, calcium, aluminum, iron, and thorium. It may also feature other critical elements like manganese and magnesium. 

The presence of allanite is a boon for the company, the renewable industry, and the country, because it holds several rare earth elements related to renewable production. If the estimates are correct and mining can start quickly, the U.S. could domestically produce more REEs and rely less on imports. 

More Sites in Sight 

Halleck Creek might be gaining the most attention right now but it’s only one of several locations with rare earth deposits. 

Sites explored by other companies are also in play across several nearby states, including Colorado, Idaho, and Montana. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), about 43,000 tons of rare earth oxide (REO) were mined in 2023, a slight increase from 2022. As the number of worthwhile mining locations grows, the production capacity in the United States will also expand. 

Despite being the world’s second-largest producer, the U.S. still has a net import reliance of more than 95%, with most of its imports coming from China. China is the world’s largest REE producer, generating about two-thirds of the world’s supply. The country also has double the reserves available compared to Vietnam, the second-largest holder. 

If U.S. deposits are as large as they seem, it could reduce dependency on other countries and shift focus back on domestic usage instead of exports. 

Huge Wins, Expansive Initiatives 

Any new mineral deposits are a cause for celebration, but the sheer size and makeup of the Halleck Creek stake have industry players keeping a close eye on the site. 

Economic Jet Fuel 

For starters, the amount of rare earth minerals found in Wyoming is a massive win for the region, state, and country.  

The mining operation is projected to create hundreds of high-paying jobs for miners, engineers, geologists, site operators, and office staff while funneling millions of dollars to the surrounding communities. 

According to American Rare Earths, the deposit is near infrastructure and has access to skilled laborers. Wyoming is also mining-friendly, thanks to its low taxes and supportive regulation structure. 

Promotes Clean Energy Infrastructure 

Although mining isn’t generally the best way to protect the environment, the REEs found at the Halleck Creek site can help fuel several critical global renewable energy initiatives. 

Rare earth minerals are used in magnets in wind turbines and electric vehicle motors but also have functions in solar panels, batteries, hydropower operations, and other emerging fuel cell technologies. As more minerals are mined and used, more production can occur, lowering costs for renewable products like solar panels, EVs, and other technology. 

Increased availability also promotes innovation, leading to better, more efficient technologies. Unfortunately, any mining needs to be done in a way that doesn’t create environmental issues, raise the risk of potential radioactivity, permanently damage the land, or ruin the quality of life of people living in nearby communities. 

Less Reliance on Others 

China has been a major worldwide player in the rare earth minerals market for years, processing about 90% of ALL rare earth elements mined. 

Other countries mine for REEs, but China controls the industry as the world’s leading refiner. Today, nearly all rare earth metals coming into Europe come from China, and the U.S. imports about 80% – despite being one of the world’s largest producers. 

A massive supply of rare earths could help the U.S. reduce net imports, shortening the supply chain and bolstering domestic production and processing capabilities. With enough production, it’s even possible to eventually become an exporter alongside China. 

While it remains to be seen what future mining operations look like, sites like Halleck Creek and others strewn across western states could propel the U.S. toward becoming a rare earth leader. 

Great for U.S. Security 

We’ve already talked about the ongoing renewable energy revolution, but did you know REEs comprise a critical piece of our military guidance systems? 

Rare earths are used in everything from weapons and guidance systems to communication devices, generators, night vision systems, and stealth technology. Essentially, many of the things our soldiers use to get an edge on the battlefield are supported by REEs. 

Shortens the Supply Chain 

When more domestic production and processing takes place, it dramatically shortens the supply chain for manufacturers, suppliers, and end users. 

As REE supplies increase, prices fall as there’s more material available stateside for manufacturers to get their hands on. Prices also drop because buyers don’t have to worry about tariffs, duties, and other taxes associated with importing materials. 

Not All that Glitters is Lanthanum 

Having abundant rare earth elements is fantastic for meeting long-term fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emission goals, but mining and processing present a few drawbacks to address. 

Environmental Concerns 

Although the Halleck Creek site is a shallow mine, making it easier to access REEs, it’s still an open pit mining operation. 

Though rare earths aren’t always hard to find, they can be difficult to mine and convert into usable materials. Even with the elements being close to the surface, open-air pits can cause air and water pollution if measures aren’t taken to proactively address those concerns. We also face the threat of radioactivity being released into the air or water through by-products like wastewater ponds. 

Societal Problems 

Not everyone is keen on mining, including those living in communities near the mine or who may have ancestral connections to the land. 

Several critical minerals have been found on or near tribal lands across the United States, including sacred lands. In other cases, small communities have had to deal with massive influxes of people, congestion, rapidly rising home and rental costs, and other problems tied to short-term growth near mines. 

During these times, infrastructure, public services, housing stock, and commercial development must play catch-up to match demand. 

A Stream of Red Tape 

From municipal and county to state and federal government, regulations and permitting can slow even the most ambitious projects to a crawl. Companies must double-check every detail or risk delays or denials. 

Even more importantly, if the community or region doesn’t support mining operations, it may slow down the permitting process or cause it to be denied outright. Lawsuits and other litigation may be possible if the situation deteriorates far enough. 

Although American Rare Earths has plans to begin mining before the end of the decade, it generally takes more than a decade to open a new mine. The company has also said it could take decades to reach maximum capacity. To that end, working collaboratively with communities and governments can shorten timelines and streamline the permitting process. 

The Future of REEs Is American 

The United States has a unique opportunity to become a global production and processing leader. It also forces companies to find ways to sustainably and safely mine REEs without destroying the environment we’re trying to protect. 

In 2015, nearly 200 countries entered the Paris Agreement, putting the world on a path toward reducing greenhouse gases and addressing climate change. The world is optimistic for renewable energy sources, not only because they’re better for the environment but because they offer a viable path away from fossil fuels. 

There is an insatiable need for more renewable options, and REEs play a significant role in expanding their adoption. Without them, the world’s sustainability goals face an uphill battle.

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