STILLWATER — Oklahoma soon will be home to a rare earth metal and manufacturing facility.
USA Rare Earth, LLC, announced Thursday that it plans to invest $100 million into a Stillwater plant that will convert rare earth oxides into metals, magnets and other specialty materials that can be used in such things as electric vehicles, mobile electronic devices and military hardware .
USA Rare Earth, LLC, which controls and operates the Round Top Heavy Rare Earth, Lithium and Critical Minerals Project in Hudspeth County, Texas, is expected to start production in Oklahoma in 2023, creating at least 100 jobs and generating more than $6.6 million in annual wages once fully operational.
“Oklahoma has long been on the cutting edge of energy innovation, and this project embodies the energetic, forward-thinking mentality of our state,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a statement. “The USA Rare Earth project will help our state remain a leader in domestic energy production, further diversifying our economy while reducing US dependence on foreign imports.”
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Rare earth elements — minerals essential for producing permanent magnets, catalysts, rechargeable batteries and LED lights and displays — are found across the globe, but deposits containing economically usable concentrations are less common. For example, the United States in 2020 imported 100% of its usable rare earth compounds and metals, with 80% of those coming from China.
USA Rare Earth owns an 80% equity interest in the Round Top Mountain deposit in Hudspeth County.
“Currently, the United States, European Union, Japan, and much of the developed world is largely connecting on China for critical rare earth element production,” Thayer Smith, president of USA Rare Earth, said in a statement. “Our goal with this project is to advance US manufacturing capacity by establishing the first vertically integrated domestic supply chain for rare earth elements, and we are excited to be working in Oklahoma.”
Ken Wagner is Secretary of Energy and Environment for the state of Oklahoma.
“To increase national security, the US must secure a domestic, reliable and sustainable supply of critical rare earth elements,” he said in a statement. “Oklahoma is perfectly positioned to help lead the way as the US seeks energy independence and less reliance on foreign materials from countries that do not share our values.”
In addition to national defense, rare earth elements are behind many of Oklahoma’s core economic drivers, including the aerospace, technology, automotive and advanced manufacturing industries.
Canoo, an electric vehicle start-up company, last year announced plans to provide at least 1,500 jobs by building a 3-million-plus-square-foot factory at MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor.
“The State of Oklahoma and the City of Stillwater offer a unique business, labor and operating environment for USA Rare Earth and will be a catalyst for economic development,” Stillwater Mayor William Joyce said. “We are excited to work alongside USA Rare Earth, state and local leaders and our residents to solidify a healthy economy, productive workforce and vibrant community.”
State leaders also noted having access to the state’s research institutions, including those at Stillwater-based OSU, will be vital to the project, providing research, development, innovation of critical rare earth elements and a strong workforce.
“Our mission is to bring jobs, investment, and economic prosperity to the state of Oklahoma,” Jennifer Springer, director of business development at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, said in a statement. “By establishing more high-wage job opportunities, this project will enable Oklahoma to become a nationwide industry leader across its core economic competencies.”
In 2020, USA Rare Earth acquired the only sintered, neo-magnet manufacturing equipment in the western hemisphere. The company plans to have the necessary operating permits for all metal, flake, and magnet operations in 2022 with initial production to commence the following year.
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