A supply of clean, affordable energy depends on little-known substances
There’s one problem with the silicon age: its magic depends on elements that are far scarcer than beach sand. Some aren’t merely in limited supply: many people have never even heard of them. And yet those elements have become essential to the green economy. Alien-sounding elements such as yttrium, neodymium, europium, terbium and dysprosium are key components of energy-saving lights, powerful permanent magnets and other technologies. And then there are gallium, indium and tellurium, which create the thin-film photovoltaics needed in solar panels. The U.S. Department of Energy now counts those first five elements as “critical materials” crucial to new technology but whose supply is at risk of disruption. The department’s experts are closely monitoring global production of the last three and likewise the lithium that provides batteries for pocket flashlights and hybrid cars.
Earlier this year the DoE took a major step by launching the Critical Materials Institute, a $120-million program to avert a supply shortage. Led by the Ames Laboratory in Iowa, with backing from 17 other government laboratories, universities and industry partners, the institute represents a welcome investment in new research. Unfortunately—like the original Manhattan Project—the program is driven more by the threat of international conflict than by ideals of scientific cooperation. The appropriation made it through Congress almost certainly because of legislators’ fear of China’s dominance in many critical elements and Bolivia’s ambition to become “the Saudi Arabia of lithium.”
The worries are probably inevitable. China—historically a prickly partner at best to the U.S.—effectively has much of the world’s critical-materials market at its mercy. Take the rare earth elements neodymium, europium, terbium and dysprosium. Despite their name, rare earths are many times more common than gold or platinum and can be found in deposits around the world. In recent years, however, cheap labor and lax environmental regulation have enabled China to corner the global market, mining and refining well over 90 percent of rare earths.
At the same time, China has consistently fallen short of its own production quotas. In 2012 the U.S., the European Union and Japan, suspecting China was manipulating the market, filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO). China argues that production cutbacks were necessary for environmental cleanup. At press time, a preliminary ruling in October 2013 against China will likely be appealed. Meanwhile Japan has announced discovery of vast undersea deposits of rare earths, and the Americans, among others, are working to restart their own disused facilities. The shortages won’t last.
Bolivia’s lithium is a different story. The impoverished, landlocked country needs no artificial shortages to boost the market. As the lightest metal, lithium has unmatched ability to form compounds that can store electricity in a minimal weight and volume. At least half the world’s known reserves are located in a relatively small stretch of the Andes Mountains, where Bolivia and Argentina share a border with Chile.
There’s more at stake here than fancy gadgets for the rich.
The Latest on: Rare earths
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The Latest on: Rare earths
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Appia Energy Corp. (CSE: API) (OTCQB: APAAF) (FSE: A0I.F) (FSE: A0I.MU) (FSE: A0I.BE) (the "Company" or "Appia") is pleased to announce that a field crew has started Phase I exploration activities on ...
- U.S. Deposits of Rare-Earth Elements Are . . . Not So Rare, after Allon June 29, 2020 at 6:33 am
Right now, the only U.S. domestic source of rare-earth minerals is the Mountain Pass mine in California. As I noted back in December, the United States is sitting on a massive supply of rare-earth ...
- Defense Metals Corp. Files Updated Technical Report for its Wicheeda Rare Earth Element Carbonatite Depositon June 29, 2020 at 6:18 am
CNW/ - ("Defense Metals" or the "Company") (DEFN.V) (DFMTF) (35D.F) is pleased to announce the filing of an updated technical report titled "Technical Report on the Wicheeda Rare Earth Element ...
- U.S. Is Vulnerable to China’s Dominance in Rare Earths, Report Findson June 29, 2020 at 2:37 am
China sees its dominance in strategic rare-earth minerals as leverage that can be used against the West—including in trade disputes with the U.S., according to a new report by U.S.-based researchers.
- Brokers upbeat on Rainbow Rare Earths despite economic uncertaintyon June 29, 2020 at 2:20 am
The Rainbow Rare Earths (LON:RBW) share price has risen by 13.5% over the past month and it’s currently trading at 2.97. For investors considering whether to ...
- Rare Earth and the Advance of Technologyon June 29, 2020 at 2:17 am
Rare, strategic metals and, in particular, an important subset called rare earths, are vital ingredients are critical to economic growth. compu ...
- MP Materials Says They’re Our Fastest Path To Re-Establishing The American Rare Earths Supply Chainon June 26, 2020 at 9:18 am
Rare earth elements (REEs) are a hot topic right now, since they’re in high demand for defense and high-tech applications, but almost entirely sourced from China. There’s stiff market and government ...
- Wyoming rare earth elements project receives federal fundingon June 25, 2020 at 4:03 pm
A project in Wyoming to develop technologies and methods to extract rare earth elements from coal ash received more than $810,000 from the federal government. Researchers at the National Energy ...
- Effects of rice straw and rice straw ash on rice growth and α-diversity of bacterial community in rare-earth mining soilson June 25, 2020 at 2:15 am
Pot experiments were carried out to study the effects of rice straw (RS) and rice straw ash (RSA) on the growth of early rice and α-diversity of bacterial community in soils arou ...
- Retaking Control Of The U.S. Rare Earth Supply Chainon June 23, 2020 at 8:50 am
U.S. trade tensions with China have highlighted the world’s dependence on China for rare earth supply given it controls 80% of the market. Not only does China d ...
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