U.S. Army extends deadline to apply for rare earths project financing

FILE PHOTO: A front-end loader is used to reinforce a safety berm inside the open pit at a rare earth facility in California June 29, 2015. REUTERS/David Becker

(Reuters) - The U.S. Army has extended by one week the deadline to apply for rare earths processing facility financing, the third deadline extension of a program intended to help Washington secure domestic supply of the minerals used to make military weapons.

The deadline has been moved to Dec. 23 from Dec. 16, according to a military notice sent to potential applicants and seen by Reuters.

The Army division overseeing munitions last month asked miners for proposals on the cost of a pilot plant to process rare earths, adding that it plans to fund up to two-thirds of a refiner’s cost and could fund at least one or more projects.

Several rare earths companies, including Australia’s Lynas Corp, have said they will apply.

The move would mark the first financial investment by the U.S. military into commercial-scale rare earths production since World War Two’s Manhattan Project built the first atomic bomb.

It comes after President Donald Trump earlier this year ordered the military to update its supply chain for the niche materials, warning that reliance on other nations for the strategic minerals could hamper U.S. defenses.

Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Tom Brown