Michael Silver, CEO of American Elements, an advanced-materials manufacturer, has proposed a bold plan to create the USA’s only specialist rare earth research centre.
Mr Silver, who has discussed his idea several times with US President Donald Trump and some of his key officials, says the idea would help the US better compete on a global scale.
His idea concerns the Mountain Pass Rare Earth Mine, an open-pit mine on the south side of the Clark Mountain Range in California.
The mine, previously owned by Molycorp Inc and recently taken over by a consortium, made its name supplying most of the world’s rare earth elements but financial problems saw it enter bankruptcy in 2015.
The new owner of the Mountain Pass rare earths mine is MP Mine Operations LLC but Mr Silver has proposed that the US Government step in.
American Elements has a particular knowledge of the site because the company did business with Molycorp before Mountain Pass became idle.
He argues that creating a research centre supported by the mine’s raw materials would prove a powerful combination.
Mountain Pass was the only rare earths mine operating in the United States before it went bankrupt in 2015 and is based on a deposit in a 1.4 billion year old Precambrian carbonatite intruded into gneiss. The mine contains 8% to 12% rare earth oxides and metals that can be extracted from it include Cerium, Europium, Lanthanum and Neodymium.
Michael Silver said: “The mine has changed hands several times over the years and my proposal is for the US Government to take it into public hands by applying the Takings Clause of the 5th Amendment and acquire Mountain Pass by eminent domain.
“The Government would pay the current owners just compensation as required under the Constitution then set Mountain Pass up as a National Laboratory. The United States has experience of this model through its experiences with Los Alamos.”
Los Alamos in New Mexico was established as a National Laboratory in 1943 of the Manhattan Project to design and build an atomic bomb. Today, the teams at the Laboratory, including chemists, work on advanced technologies to provide the scientific and engineering solutions to the nation’s most crucial security challenges.
Mr Silver said he has been talking to key US Government officials to press his idea that the US should nationalise the country’s only mine of rare earth minerals, which are used in military applications.
The production of rare-earth minerals — used in applications from hybrid electric cars to iPhones and military hardware such as night-vision goggles and guided weapons –is dominated by Chinese mines and Mr Silver argues the time has come to challenge that.
He said: “This is a great opportunity. The problem for the United States is that although it has the raw materials, it is lagging behind when it comes to the technology for separating them.
“Separation needs high level technology and the US has not been as effective as countries like China.
“A National Laboratory would allow us to develop that technology and the mine would allow it to generate income at the same time.
“China recognised what had to be done and if we do not, we are dead. We will be a Third World country.
“That is why I have suggested to the President that the mine should be converted to a National Laboratory dedicated to rebuilding America’s rare-earth mining industry so the world knows it is safe to build high-tech manufacturing plants in the US.
“The perception is the only place in the world you can go for reasonably priced rare earth materials for your product is in China. We have to change that perception.”
Neither MP Mine Operations or The White House responded to requests for comment.