All those hybrid and electric cars, wind turbines and similar clean tech innovations may count for nothing if the U.S. cannot secure a supply of rare earth minerals. Ditto for other advanced telecommunications or defense technologies, scientists told a U.S. House subcommittee.
China has supplied 91 percent of U.S. consumption of rare earths between 2005 and 2008, and continues to represent the world's largest rare earth exporter. But the Chinese have warned that their own domestic industry appetite for rare earths may eventually force them to stop exporting -- an action that would leave the U.S. high-tech industries crippled without other readily available supplies.
"The United States, not so long ago, was the world leader in producing and exporting rare earths," said Brad Miller, the Democratic Representative from North Carolina and chairman of the subcommittee. "Today, China is the world's leader."
Experts testified that China's state-owned mines had set artificially low prices for the rare earth market, and that Chinese manufacturers had also forced most U.S. rare earth and permanent magnet manufacturers out of business. Rare earth magnets represent a major component in Toyota's Prius hybrid and other clean tech.
Companies such as IBM have also begun investing in new solar cells and other technologies that don't require rare earths, partly because of the dangers of relying too much upon foreign suppliers.
But there's also opportunity from investing in rare earths, besides avoiding a supply chain problem. Karl Gschneidner Jr., a senior metallurgist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory in Iowa, called for the creation of a National Research Center on Rare Earths and Energy as well as a National Research Center for Magnetic Cooling.
Magnetic refrigeration is a hot new area for energy-efficient, green technology that can handle cooling and climate control. Cooling below room temperature currently takes up 15 percent of all the energy consumed in the U.S., but the rise of magnetic refrigeration could slash that by 5 percent.
Given all the energy problems with keeping massive data centers cool in the Information Age, we also imagine that Google and other companies might welcome magnetic refrigeration with open arms. That is, as long as the U.S. can secure its own domestic rare earth supply or find new overseas suppliers.
All the more reason to get out into space and begin Asteroid Mining.
If anyone needs less than a billion tons of rare earths, look to New Mexico. There are sand deposits that carry about 1 percent rare earths in massive deposits of black sand bearing sands. At the same time there is a basnisite deposit of unknown size. Once again someone forgets that an increase in scarcity means an increase in price which means a Vast increase in new mineral availability. There is no shortage of rare earths, only a shortage of trust in human adaptability.
We have many more planets around us. Time to put Obama's NASA money to good use for private companies to go out and seek planets from which to extract the minerals. It's only a matter of time.
Agree entirely .... human adaptability will prevail .... and why mine your own in a depressed market anyhow. Just make sure it's there when its needed and make sure the quantity and grade are known so people don't make the wrong decisions.
I also agree. These are not "rare", just not economical when China is producing and selling them at deflated prices.
There are plenty of deposits throughout North America and the rest of the world. The price wars will begin again when more efficient processing techniques are developed.
There is also the likelihood that shortages will lead to developments in material sciences so we need different materials.
Just because we found one material that works does not mean it is the only one that does.
Look at some of the new thermal energy work done with carbon nanotubes.
Science is some awesome stuff.
Or simply just attack China with all of U.S. military might and take what you need !!!
Something tells me that companies won't be too fond of using powerful magnets in their data centers.
unless they switch to SSD..
anyway, if we would stop deflecting asteroids from crashing into earth then we would have more rare metals/minerals etc. now wouldn't we? ok we haven't really deflected any asteroids have we? then my post is pointless.
harvesting elements from oceanwater, via electrolysis or however else you plan on doing it.. it was in this insanely realistic dream i had, where the flying saucers were chilling in the ocean repairing their hulls with lightweight metals & whatnot. i would imagine that every element in the periodic table is present in oceanwater, except for those that precipitated to the bottom in that massive chemical reaction.
Start tagging and mapping asteroids on the asteroid belt while we work on autonomous mining vehicles to extract the rare earth metals. Higher density asteroids would have the most likelihood for extracting the type of metals we need. Problem solved! next........
thank you very much
Well, those elements are found on the periodic table but I myself have rarely heard of them that they exist in the world.
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That was no dream, we abducted you. Welcome to the dark side.
Do you know how extreamly expensive that would be? There are other deposits on Earth that are yet to be utilized.