Mr. Jim Sims reports
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES APPROVES DEFENSE BILL THAT HIGHLIGHTS GROWING URGENCY FOR THE U.S. TO PRODUCE MORE OF ITS OWN CRITICAL MINERALS, INCLUDING NIOBIUM
Niocorp Developments Ltd. is applauding the United States House of Representatives for including in its fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) legislative provisions aimed at highlighting the growing urgency for the U.S. to produce more of its own critical minerals, including niobium.
The house passed its version of the fiscal year 2021 NDAA in a 295-125 bipartisan vote on Tuesday. The bill contains provisions highlighting the need to establish a domestic production capacity of niobium materials, as well as language supporting domestic production capacity of rare earth elements, which includes scandium. Both niobium and scandium were designated by the U.S. government as critical minerals in 2018, and Niocorp plans to produce niobium, scandium and titanium at its Elk Creek superalloy materials project in Nebraska once project financing is secured and the Elk Creek project is operational.
"Niocorp is pleased to see the U.S. house adopt this bipartisan call for efforts to strengthen critical minerals supply chains," said Mark A. Smith, chief executive officer and executive chairman of Niocorp. "In particular, the house bill specifically highlights the need to establish a secure domestic supply chain for niobium oxide. While our Elk Creek project does not plan to initially produce high-purity niobium oxide materials, this initiative by congress does shine a brighter light on the strategic importance of niobium in general. That is helpful to the Elk Creek project, given that we intend to be the first to mine and process niobium in the U.S."
The full U.S. senate is currently debating its version of the fiscal year 2021 NDAA, which was passed by the senate armed services committee in June. Assuming both bills get approved, they will go to a house-senate conference committee where differences between the two versions are expected to be resolved. A final compromise measure is then presented to each chamber for a vote. A final bill is then sent to the president for his signature or veto. An NDAA bill has been enacted into law every year for the past 59 years.
Legislative language related to critical minerals production in the house bill includes the following provisions:
- The bill highlights the need to establish a U.S. production capacity for niobium oxides, which are used in the production of niobium metal and in optical and electronics applications. In Title VIII of the committee report to accompany the bill (H.R. 6395), passed by the house armed services committee (HASC), in a section entitled "Secure Supply Chain for Niobium," the committee directed the following actions be taken by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) on niobium oxides:
- "Niobium oxides are important for defense and commercial applications. Recognizing this, the Department of Interior deemed niobium as one of 35 critical minerals vulnerable to supply chain disruption, the 'absence of which would have significant consequences for our economy and our national security.' The U.S. imports niobium from nations subject to political pressures and instability, which creates risk for supply chain disruption."
- "Accordingly, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense to brief the House Committee on Armed Services by February 15, 2021 detailing the actions necessary in order to establish a domestic production capacity for niobium oxides. The Secretary should consider leveraging established critical mineral supply chains, including niobium's twin element tantalum, to provide needed supply chain security."
In the committee report, the HASC further highlighted the strategic importance of niobium, the rare earth elements (which include scandium) and other critical minerals. It directed the DoD to report on:
- "... the state of the domestic supply chain, economic importance, risks associated, and availability of rare earth metals, including tungsten, neodymium iron boron magnets, niobium, indium, gallium, germanium, and tin. The assessment shall evaluate the need to stockpile these elements along with others the department identifies due to their critical role for national security and sourcing from foreign entities."
Finally, the HASC report also included a directive to the DoD to seek to acquire rare earth materials (which includes scandium) from domestic production sources first:
Section 824 -- Preference for Sourcing Rare Earth Materials from the National Technology and Industrial Base. This section would require the secretary of defence, to the maximum extent possible, to acquire materials that are determined to be strategic and critical materials required to meet the defence industrial, and essential civilian needs of the U.S. first from sources located within the U.S. and then from sources located in the national technology and industrial base, as defined in Section 2500 of Title 10, U.S. Code.
Nations included in the national technology and industrial base are the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Canada and Australia.
Niocorp is developing a superalloy materials project in southeast Nebraska that will produce niobium, scandium and titanium.
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