This piece originally appeared in National Review.
Lawton, Okla. — Over 100 investors, government officials, and industry executives gathered this past month to celebrate the groundbreaking of Westwin Elements’ pilot plant. The plant will become the only cobalt and nickel refinery in the country when operations begin next year.
The groundbreaking comes at a time when American government and industry are becoming increasingly aware of critical minerals’ strategic importance. On the left, the Biden administration has recognized that its investments in the electric-vehicle industry will require enormous quantities of cobalt, nickel, lithium, manganese, and graphite. For the right, China’s dominance over the critical-mineral supply chain represents what mining executive and groundbreaking attendee Tom Albanese called “OPEC squared” — a resource monopoly that could eventually spell disaster for American security.
The Lawton refinery marks a small step toward reducing one side of this mineral dependency. Refining is the second step in the mineral value chain. Once raw ore is extracted from the earth, refineries are responsible for separating the commercially valuable mineral from the rock, at which point the material can be processed and manufactured into specific parts such as battery cells and magnets.