Four decades ago, a rare earth processing plant on France's Atlantic coast was one of the largest in the world, churning out materials used to make color televisions, arc lights and camera lenses.

Its current owner Solvay is racing to return the plant at La Rochelle to its former glory after years of diminished output as Europe seeks to boost production of the minerals fueling the green energy transition.

The factory's 76-year history is a microcosm of the challenges Europe and the United States face as they seek to reverse massive migration of rare earth processing to China that took place around 25 years ago.