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In September 2010, a Chinese trawler collided with Japanese patrol boats in the East China Sea, a region claimed by both countries. In the wake of the accident, China, which owns 97% of the world’s rare earth sources, cut off rare-earth sales to Japan. Prices for Japanese-made electronics, which utilize rare earths, soared. Trade of these vital rare earths did not return to normal for five years.

A similar event occurred in 2006 when Russia cut off natural gas to Ukraine for several days over disagreements about pricing. A separate dispute led Russia to turn off Europe’s gas three years later and disputes still ongoing.

Scarce natural resources are frequently withheld for political reasons. Titanium, a superstar metal used in numerous strategic applications including U.S. fighter jets, satellites and missiles, has the potential to be the next target. The national security of the U.S. is at risk as a consequence.

The U.S. is 100% reliant on imports of primary titanium metal. China is the global leader in the production of titanium metal. Japan is the world’s second-biggest producer and Russia is No. 3. Having the bulk of the world’s titanium metal production in the hands of the U.S.’s top two international rivals is clearly a problem.

That’s why it is important that the U.S. government support domestic titanium metal production.

The U.S. lost its last remaining producer of primary titanium metal last October when Titanium Metals Corp. closed its Henderson, Nev., plant due to competition from cheaper foreign imports and reduced demand due to the pandemic. This means the U.S. is at the mercy of foreign countries for its supply of primary titanium metal, including for its armed services.

Titanium is a central ingredient in America’s front-line defensive capabilities, including the F-35 fighter jet, the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, armor plating in tanks, propeller shafts in naval vehicles and rocket casings.

The U.S. government has declared that titanium is one of 35 mineral commodities that are vital to U.S. economic and national security and has formed a task force to address short-term supply chain disruptions.

There is no reason that the U.S. cannot source titanium minerals from the homeland. The U.S. has significant reserves of titanium ore that can be mined and used to produce titanium metal. The solution is to incentivize and develop a fully integrated, domestic titanium ore-to-metal supply chain in the U.S., combining domestic sources of titanium minerals with innovative and efficient processing methods to produce titanium metal.

A first step is an amendment offered by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., to the National Defense Authorization Act. It states simply and accurately that titanium metal is essential to U.S. national security.

The federal government should also include “Buy American” clauses for titanium ore and metal. The Title III Defense Production Act is a viable option to support domestic titanium sourcing, as is the inclusion of critical minerals and their supply chains in policy that would incentivize private investment in domestic titanium sourcing and manufacturing, such as tax incentives.

Sustainable supply chain policy recommendations could be focused on supporting new technology to replace existing energy and carbon intensive processes in the titanium metal supply chain. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office conducted a “bandwidth” study that shows that further research in titanium refining can lead to up to 70% energy savings compared to today’s typical process.

Federal support in securing long-term research, development and demonstration investments will encourage significant private investment in innovative solutions for domestic production capacity to address supply chain vulnerabilities. Funding would accelerate the timeline to obtain pilot plant experience and provide the information needed by investors to finance a production-scale plant.

It can be done. Hyperion Metals, for example, has secured the rights to more than 6,000 acres rich in titanium and rare earth elements near Camden, Tenn.

To turn the domestic titanium ore into domestic titanium metal, Hyperion has secured the exclusive rights to the patented Hydrogen Assisted Magnesiothermic Reduction (“HAMR”) and Granulation-Sintering-Deoxygenation (“GSD”) technologies developed by Dr. Z. Zak Fang and his team at the University of Utah, which have the potential to produce sustainable, zero carbon and low cost titanium in the U.S.

Titanium is a 21st-century metal fundamental to the technological and military aspirations of the world’s superpowers. The U.S. cannot be left dependent on foreign rivals for this precious metal.

Anastasios Arima is managing director and co-founder of Hyperion Metals Ltd., which controls the Titan Project in Tennessee.

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