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Wyoming's Rare Earth Breaks China Dependency

The discovery could help to reign in China and President Xi's ambitions over the coming decade.

Sheridan, Wyoming near the Bighorn Mountains, Photo credit: Atkach24, via Wikimedia Commons

There is excellent news for the American industry, economy, and international trade sectors. The discovery of colossal rare earth deposits in Wyoming could essentially restructure the global supply chain of these crucial elements in the near future.

A discovery of 2.34 billion metric tons of rare earth elements (REEs) in a mine outside of Sheridan, Wyoming, has generated great excitement across industries stateside. For one, the reserves are estimated to be bigger than China’s current reserves, implying that this single find could end America’s reliance on Chinese exports if exploited judiciously.

According to available data, the U.S. uses about 8,300 metric tons of these vital elements annually. The Brook Mine in Wyoming is believed to have reserves totaling 1.2 million metric tons, making America the world’s largest processor of some of the most in-demand REEs.

Secondly, the mine is said to be rich in two of the most sought-after rare earth elements - neodymium and praseodymium oxides. Considering that rare earth minerals are crucial to a wide range of industries as varied as computer chips, wind turbines, electric vehicle batteries, specialized glass products, and defense purposes, being self-sufficient could have a consequential impact on the country’s economy.

Infographic dated November 16, 2023

The reduced reliance on Chinese exports could significantly impact relations with America’s ‘strategic competitor.’ Beijing had begun to use REEs as a pawn in international relations. In 2023, China imposed restrictions on the export of some of the crucial minerals, leaving users scrambling to find alternate sources. President Xi’s quixotic Zero Covid policy and extended lockdowns had exposed how utterly dependent key sectors were on Chinese exports.

World leaders were often forced to walk a tightrope when criticizing Beijing or seeking cooperation on world affairs. China’s hold over rare earth production and processing, and its manufacturing prowess, gave the country an unfair advantage that it sought to exploit by furthering President Xi’s aggressive, dominant agenda.

China, the current global manufacturing hub, has dominated world markets thanks to two crucial factors – cheap labor and abundant, locally available raw materials. The country earned dollars by exporting pricey raw materials and cheap finished products. If international buyers find other sellers of REEs, China’s exchequer will be badly hit. The reserve discovered in Wyoming is estimated to be worth around $37 billion. This could mean bad news for an already shrinking Chinese economy struggling to shake off the pandemic-induced pall.

Should the predictions and projections regarding the rare earths discovered in Wyoming pan out, America could soon see a resurgence in its industrial manufacturing sector. This could give a significant boost to the nation’s economy as a whole. A booming manufacturing sector means more employment and further investment in R&D. Without the cost of imports, raw materials may become available at competitive, if not cheaper, rates. The tide could finally turn on the jobs leaving the country.

The REEs discovered in Wyoming is a boost in the arm of the American economy. Beyond the US borders, the restructuring of the REE market could help to reign in China and President Xi's ambitions over the coming decade.

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