Posts Tagged ‘rare earth elements’

Rare-Earth Mineral Supply Getting Boost From California, Australia

November 1st, 2011 11:40 admin View Comments


An anonymous reader writes “In recent times, the world’s supply of rare-earth minerals has suffered from both increased demand, due to their use in modern technological devices, and uncertain supply, as China restricts the flow of exports. Now, Molycorp’s mine in California has re-opened, and another in Australia is set to open later this year, easing — but not erasing — worries about skyrocketing costs. ‘[The mine had closed] in 2002 following radioactive wastewater spills and price competition. The largest spills, from a pipeline to Nevada, occurred in the late 1990s, in protected lands in the Mojave Desert. The company has since changed its ownership structure. … It’s being rebuilt to produce up to 40,000 metric tons of rare-earth elements by 2013, which would be a 700 percent increase from its production target for the end of this year.”

Source: Rare-Earth Mineral Supply Getting Boost From California, Australia

Rare Earth Restrictions To Raise Hard Drive Cost

August 19th, 2011 08:00 admin View Comments


MojoKid writes “Multiple manufacturers in the IT industry have been keeping a wary eye on China’s decision to cut back on rare earth exports and the impact it may have on component prices. There have been reports that suggest we’ll see that decision hit the hard drive industry this year, with HDD prices trending upwards an estimated 5-10 percent depending on capacity. Although rare earth magnets are only a small part of a hard drive’s total cost, China cut exports last year by 40 percent, which drove pricing for these particular components up an estimated 20-30x. China currently controls 97 percent of the rare earth elements market for popular metals like neodymium, cerium, yttrium and ytterbium.”

Source: Rare Earth Restrictions To Raise Hard Drive Cost

Rare Earth Deposit Discovered In US

August 4th, 2011 08:57 admin View Comments


s31523 writes “With China having 97% of the market share of rare earth elements, many countries are nervous about being able to get supplies of key elements needed for high tech gear. Quantum Rare Earths Developments Corp. has reported they have discovered a potential huge source of rare earth elements, right in the middle of the U.S. While the USGS reports that the U.S. has an estimated 13 million metric tonnes available for mining (about 1/3 of China’s reserves), finding another regular source is crucial to global stability. The potential yield of the deposit, found in Nebraska, could be the world’s largest source for Niobium and other rare earth elements. Could this be the next gold rush?”

Source: Rare Earth Deposit Discovered In US

Japanese Team Finds New Source of Rare Earth Elements

July 4th, 2011 07:22 admin View Comments


gyaku_zuki writes “As reported in the BBC, a Japanese survey team has discovered ‘vast’ quantities of rare earths in international waters in the Pacific Ocean. The search for alternative sources of these expensive elements (used in common consumer electronics including mobile phones) was intensified recently after a territory dispute with China, which produces more than 90% of the world’s rare earths, resulted in China blocking export to Japan.”

Source: Japanese Team Finds New Source of Rare Earth Elements

California Mine Aims To Challenge China’s Rare Earth Supremacy

December 27th, 2010 12:07 admin View Comments

Renewable energy, information technology, and many other industries are in a political and economic bind—they require the obscure periodic table denizens called rare earth metals, and nearly all the world’s supply of those elements comes from China. But now, for the first time in years, rare earth elements will be mined at an American site. The mining company Molycorp says it has the permits in hand to reopen a mine in Mountain Pass, California, that could soon meet much of the U.S. demand for these elements.

The materials that come out of Mountain Pass will be used to make high-strength magnets necessary for electric vehicle engines, wind turbines, and a variety of other high-tech products. However, the U.S. possesses neither the technology nor the licensing to manufacture the neodymium-iron-boron alloy necessary for their production. As such, Molycorp has partnered with Japanese firm Hitachi Metals to manufacture the magnets in the United States. [Popular Science]

After its projected 2012 opening, the Molycorp mine should produce about 20,000 tons of material per year, the company says. Right now the world’s demand stands at about 125,000 tons per year, and Technology Review reports that this number could jump to 225,000 in five years. China has a stranglehold on the rare earth market, meaning political maelstroms could disrupt the supply.

In 2009 [China] provided 95 percent of the world’s supply, or 120,000 tons. This concentration of supply has become a major issue in recent months, particularly after China temporarily blocked exports of these materials to Japan in September. A Critical Materials Strategy document issued by the U.S. Department of Energy last week points to the “risk of supply disruption” in the short term. [Technology Review]

At one time, Mountain Pass was the biggest rare earth mine in the world; however, competition and environmental problems forced its closure in 2004. Its reopening might herald a new boom in mining these materials in the U.S.—if it’s economical to get at them.

A recent report published by the U.S. Geological Survey estimates the total rare earth reserves in the United States at 1.5 million tons. But the report says it’s unclear how much of these reserves can be mined economically. The DOE report outlines a strategy of diversifying the international supply of rare earths, identifying substitute materials, and finding ways to use the materials more efficiently and recycle them. [Technology Review]

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Source: California Mine Aims To Challenge China’s Rare Earth Supremacy

Geologists And Tech Industry Leaders Fear Mineral Trade Wars Imminent

November 5th, 2010 11:00 admin View Comments

The Geological Society Of America (also known as the Geosociety) completed the installation of a solar power generating rooftop at their Boulder, Colorado headquarters yesterday. The project was funded by Xcel Energy and the City of Boulder, and installed by Bella Energy.

Good thing they bought into renewables already. The price of solar photovoltaic panels could rise steeply if the Geosociety’s predictions about mineral trade wars come true. The group of 17 minerals in the rare earth category go into everything from missile guidance systems and mobile phones, to flat screen TVs, lasers and new energy technology. Pending scarcity— driven by increases in global demand, and China’s near-monopoly on the minerals market— could lead to prices that eat into industry margins, slow of clean tech projects worldwide, and diplomatic clashes between supplier nations (China) and buyer nations (U.S., Germany and Japan).

Rare earth minerals are essential to build photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, fuel cells and vehicle batteries. As widely reported, including by the Geosociety, BBC and the New York Times, some 97% of the global supply of rare earth minerals now comes from China.

Canada, Australia and the U.S. used to have more global market share, and rare earth minerals mines but the relative value of the currency, and relaxed to poor environmental regulation of mines in China made sourcing there favorable for buyers.

A trade war is imminent, James Burnell of the Colorado Geological Survey explained in the Geosociety report:

“China is preparing to build 330 giga-watts worth of wind generators. That will require about 59,000 tons of neodymium to make high-strength magnets — more than that country’s annual output of neodymium. China supplies the world with a lot of those rare earth elements, like neodymium, and will have little or none to export if it moves ahead with its wind power plans…So the source for the West is problematical.”

Earlier this month, during the East Asia Summit, Chinese officials told U.S. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton that Beijing aims to be a reliable minerals supplier and would not impose bans on exports of industrial minerals for political purposes. Sec. Clinton reportedly expressed gratitude, but requested further details on China’s export policies and new assurances.

Today, 35 global business and trade associations— including the Consumer Electronics Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and other major consumers of rare earth minerals— called on the Group of 20 (G-20) summit of the world’s 20 largest economies to address scarcity and trade war concerns at their forthcoming meeting, Nov. 11-12 in Seoul.

Officials from Japan and Germany have already complained that their automotive, and clean tech industries have been adversely impacted by China’s tightening of mineral exports. China has denied the implications of market manipulation and political motivations to reign in mineral exports. The country’s officials said China was trying to control some of the negative environmental impacts of mining, instead.

Source: Geologists And Tech Industry Leaders Fear Mineral Trade Wars Imminent

High-Tech Society Drive Demand for China’s Rare Earth Metals

October 15th, 2010 10:20 admin View Comments

rare-earthRare earth metals are a hot commodity in today’s high-tech world. Until recently these elements were fairly obscure members of the periodic table; now, their usefulness in everything from hybrid cars to solar panels has boosted their profile.

The 17 rare earth metals, some with exotic names like lanthanum and europium, form unusually strong lightweight magnetic materials. Lanthanum is used in the batteries of hybrid cars, neodymium is used in magnets in the electric generators of wind turbines and europium is used in colored phosphors for energy-efficient lighting. [Reuters]

Their new necessity has also provided a boost to China, where the vast majority of these elements are currently mined. China’s dominance has been brought into sharp focus over the past three weeks, when China blocked all shipments of rare earth metals to Japan in response to a diplomatic incident concerning a Chinese fishing boat in territorially disputed waters.

Beijing has denied the embargo, yet the lack of supply may soon disrupt manufacturing in Japan, trade and industry minister Akihiro Ohata told reporters Tuesday. [Technology Review]

Despite the name, rare earth elements are actually fairly common in the Earth’s crust. But they’re often difficult to extract profitably without making an environmental mess, and in recent years production has largely shifted to China. The extraction of the metals can be plenty dirty in China too, but environmental regulations aren’t yet stringent there.

In response to the abrupt halt in the export of rare earth metals to Japan, trade officials from the United States and Japan are discussing whether to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile, Technology Review reports that companies are scrambling to find ways to reduce their reliance on these elements: some car companies are developing motors that don’t use rare earth elements at all, while the U.S. Energy Department is funding research on making powerful magnets out of more prosaic materials.

And there’s one final option for avoiding China’s monopoly: Mine more rare earths here at home.

In California, Molycorp Minerals is looking to reopen rare-earth mines that closed in 2002, amidst low pricing and environmental concerns. In recent weeks, bills have been floated in the U.S. House and Senate aimed at reviving the rare-earth supply chain in the U.S., including mining, refining, and manufacturing. A third bill, in the House, is narrower, focusing on offering loan guarantees to restart mining. [Technology Review]

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Source: High-Tech Society Drive Demand for China’s Rare Earth Metals

China Embargos Rare Earth Exports To Japan

September 23rd, 2010 09:46 admin View Comments

Hugh Pickens writes “The NY Times reports that the Chinese government has placed a trade embargo on all exports to Japan of a crucial category of minerals used in products like hybrid cars, wind turbines and guided missiles. China mines 93 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals, and more than 99 percent of the world’s supply of some of the most prized rare earths, which sell for several hundred dollars a pound. The embargo comes after a dispute over Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing trawler captain whose ship collided with two Japanese coast guard vessels as he tried to fish in waters controlled by Japan but long claimed by China. The Chinese embargo is likely to have immediate repercussions in Washington. The House Committee on Science and Technology is scheduled to review a detailed bill to subsidize the revival of the American rare earths industry and the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to review the American military dependence on Chinese rare earth elements.”

Source: China Embargos Rare Earth Exports To Japan

China Moving To Restrict Neodymium Supply

January 2nd, 2010 01:28 admin View Comments

GuyFawkes writes with this quote from the Independent:
“Britain and other Western countries risk running out of supplies of certain highly sought-after rare metals that are vital to a host of green technologies, amid growing evidence that China, which has a monopoly on global production, is set to choke off exports of valuable compounds. Failure to secure alternative long-term sources of rare earth elements (REEs) would affect the manufacturing and development of low-carbon technology, which relies on the unique properties of the 17 metals to mass-produce eco-friendly innovations such as wind turbines and low-energy light bulbs. China, whose mines account for 97 per cent of global supplies, is trying to ensure that all raw REE materials are processed within its borders. During the past seven years it has reduced by 40 per cent the amount of rare earths available for export.”

Source: China Moving To Restrict Neodymium Supply

Isn’t It Ironic: Green Tech Relies on Dirty Mining in China

December 28th, 2009 12:56 admin View Comments

dysprosiumWind turbines, energy-efficient light bulbs, and hybrid cars and three of the most iconic products in the lineup of green technologies that can help us build a cleaner world. But in an ironic twist, these technologies all rely on elements called rare earths, which are primarily extracted from environmentally destructive mines in China.

The environmental damage can be seen in the red-brown scars of barren clay that run down narrow valleys and the dead lands below, where emerald rice fields once grew. Miners scrape off the topsoil and shovel golden-flecked clay into dirt pits, using acids to extract the rare earths. The acids ultimately wash into streams and rivers, destroying rice paddies and fish farms and tainting water supplies [The New York Times].

Despite the name, many of the 17 rare earth elements are not actually that scarce, but two heavy rare earths that are vitally important to many green technologies, dysprosium and terbium, do live up to their name. More than 99 percent of the world’s supply of these two elements is currently mined in China. Companies want to expand production outside China, but most rare-earth deposits, unlike those in southern China, are accompanied by radioactive uranium and thorium that complicate mining [The New York Times].

Putting small amounts of dysprosium in the magnets used in electric motors can make the magnets 90 percent lighter; that’s a boon for both hybrid electric cars and large wind turbines, where heavy turbines are placed at the tops of tall towers. Meanwhile, terbium is used in lighting systems that are dramatically more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent lighting. But as prices of these elements have soared in recent years, and as concerns about China’s mines are increasing, companies are beginning to investigate other ways to build the technologies of the future.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Isn’t It Ironic: Green Tech Relies on Dirty Mining in China