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Crucial innovation is also needed to break China's stranglehold on the sector without sacrificing environmental quality, industry analysts said, with concerns over current processes' toxic waste impeding projects.
Efforts by Leading Edge Materials (LEM.V) to develop Sweden's Norra Karr rare earths deposit were halted in 2016 over concerns that chemicals could leach into drinking water. The company reworked the mine plans to make them more sustainable and submitted a new environmental application this year.
Tesla in May announced plans to make EV magnets without rare earths, citing "environmental and health risks" in the existing process.
"China made a strategic decision decades ago to develop its rare earth processing capability, despite the environmental consequences of the available technology," said Melissa Sanderson, president of American Rare Earths (ARR.AX), which is developing several U.S. rare earths projects.
American Rare Earths is working with U.S. government scientists at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory to develop bacteria that could process rare earths.
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