June 3 (Bloomberg) -- General Electric Co. led companies in urging Congress to spur U.S. production of rare earths, needed for wind turbines, aircraft engines, medical devices and cell phones, and to reduce dependence on supplies from China.
Congress is considering two bills that would require the Interior Department to report on U.S. mineral resources and production limits. Lawmakers led by Representative Henry Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, also want the U.S. to consider risks of disruptions in rare-earth supplies from overseas.
“What manufacturers need is a comprehensive action here, that goes beyond this assessment,” Steven Duclos, GE chief scientist and manager of materials sustainability, told the House Natural Resources Committee. “The faster the better.”
Duclos, testifying for the National Association of Manufacturers, said the nation lacks a trained workforce to process the minerals. GE, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, is the world’s biggest maker of jet engines, power-generation equipment, locomotives and medical imaging machines.
U.S. lawmakers and manufacturers are seeking development of domestic rare-earth supplies after China said in July that it would cut its export quotas by more than 70 percent. China produced about 97 percent of the world’s supply of rare earths in 2009, according to the U.S.
Rare earths, a group of 17 minerals sharing similar properties, became a political and legislative issue after China’s export reduction. Supplies are “at risk” of being disrupted, the Energy Department said in a report last year.
Global demand for the minerals will increase at a rate of 8 percent a year as the minerals are used in computers and cars, the U.S. Geological Survey said in comments to the committee.
The U.S. needs to simplify the permit process for mines, which now takes 7 to 10 years to complete, and develop processing capabilities, such as separation and metal alloy manufacturing, Jim Engdahl, chief executive officer of Great Western Minerals Group Ltd., told the committee today.
Great Western Minerals is a Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based rare earth processor.
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