There is a rare-earth minerals mine in Mountain Pass, California, 15 miles southeast of Primm, that has an interesting history. Mining for rare earths first began here more than forty years ago.
The mine has deposits of bastnäsite, from which the following can be extracted: Cerium, Neodymium, Europium, and Lanthanum. Europium is used for the red light in cathode ray tube ("CRT") screens.
The Mountain Pass mine once made the U.S. the world's largest producer of rare-earth minerals.
The mine has been shut down in the past and has a history of opening and closing due to environmental concerns and shifting global production. In the 1980s and 1990s, the owner of the mine was pumping wastewater to evaporation ponds near Ivanpah Dry Lake.
This pipeline repeatedly ruptured, leaking radioactive matter into the desert floor due to the presence of thorium and radium.
Due to the federal authoring findings, the company had to pay more than $1.4 million in fines and settlements. The company also had to prepare a cleanup plan and complete an extensive environmental study.
In Mountain Pass’ absence of production, China took control of rare earth metals currently controlling more than 80% of the global market. China has lower environmental standards and labor costs, which has helped to boost its standing.
Outside of Mountain Pass, China and Japan are the only current sources for rare-earth magnetic material.
Due to the increasing demand for these rare earth metals, the mine resumed full operations in 2013. However, in 2015 the company that owns the mine declared bankruptcy and the mine closed again.
In 2017, the mine was sold for $20.5 million to MP Mine Operation, a company based in China, and has resumed operation.
Rare-earth elements are a critical component of an emerging, large industry, electrical vehicles, which helped spur the re-birth.
The Mountain Pass mine experienced a renewed interest in 2020 amidst the global pandemic, China’s role in the virus, and the elevated trade tensions with China.
China has become the dominant global supplier of rare earth materials, which are used in everything from computers to cars.
With supply chain difficulties, the U.S. has pushed for local production of rare earth materials. And in early 2020, the Pentagon began funding the Mountain Pass facility.
MP Materials, who owns and operates the mine, has benefitted from this surge in demand and bringing back a rare earth supply chain to the U.S.
At the Mountain Pass mine, MP Materials can produce refined neodymium-praseodymium, a rare earth material used in magnets that help power robotics, drones, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and defense systems.
If you would like to learn more about MP Materials Corp., it’s publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “MP”.
The company's headquarters is in Las Vegas.