Robert Bryce accuses neoconservatives of spreading disinformation about oil and pushing America to embrace electric vehicles prematurely. EVs rely heavily on rare-earth metals, which he points out are currently controlled by China. A switch to electric would be far more dangerous to U.S. security than remaining on oil he believes.  (Source:

The Toyota Prius is packed full of expensive rare-earth metals. Rare-earth metals are almost entirely produced in China.  (Source:
Is the Prius supporting an oppressive communist regime?

A switch to electric may be far more dangerous to U.S. security than remaining on foreign oil, argued one expert at a recent summit.

The electric vehicle movement may move mankind away from relying on one scarce resource, but into relying on another, believes Robert Bryce, author of "Power Hungry: The Myths of 'Green' Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future" (PublicAffairs; 2010).  Bryce addressed journalists at the 2010 Toyota Sustainable Mobility Seminar in La Jolla, California detailing the industry's growing addiction to rare earth metals.

Most electric vehicles and hybrids heavily rely on a series of elements called the lanthanides, which rarely occur on Earth, and thus are aptly nicknamed "rare-earth metals".  The Toyota Prius, the world's most popular hybrid, for example, uses 2.2 pounds of neodymium and about 22 pounds of lanthanum, in addition to cerium, yttrium, and zirconium.

Early fears about the electric vehicle industry focused on its reliance on lithium.  Fortunately, recent surveys have indicated lithium stocks to be more extensive than previously thought.  However, rare-earth metals are fast emerging as a more serious concern.

Competition is tight for the rare compounds.  Neodymium is used heavily in wind turbine magnets, and other rare earth elements are used in solar panels and computers.

One headache for the U.S. is not only that the elements are so scarce, but where they primarily come from.  According to an April 1 report, China by the Government Accounting Office, entitled "Rare Earth Materials in the Defense Supply Chain", states, "Most rare earth material processing now occurs in China. In 2009, China produced about 97 percent of rare earth oxides."

When it comes to production sources, there is some hope in the near future, says Bryce.  The U.S. does have substantial rare-earth reserves of its own, but it just hasn't exploited them.  The GAO believes that by 2014 the U.S. will be heavily mining these deposits.  Bryce isn't so convinced.  He states, "At the moment, the only hope for the United States when it comes to domestic lanthanide production appears to be Molycorp Minerals, which owns America's only operable rare-earths mine."

That mine has switched ownership several times, making its future seem in doubt.  Meanwhile, other deposits would require new mines, a massive investment, and which would damage the environment -- a concern for those advocating EVs from a "green" perspective.  

Meanwhile China is doing its best to remain in control of this increasingly valuable resource.  It's focusing its academic efforts on the field of rare-earth metal processing.  It also has banned foreign investment in rare-earth metal mining and has raised taxes on rare-earth metal exports.

Bryce accuses "neoconservatives" of spreading alarmism about petroleum.  He states, "Though it's true that the Saudis are influential, they only control about 10 percent of daily world oil production.  These same neoconservatives hate OPEC - but OPEC only controls about one-third of world oil production."

He points out that the U.S.'s top three foreign oil sources in January were Canada (1.882 million barrels per day), Mexico (1.033 million barrels per day), and Nigeria (0.996 million barrels per day).  Of these nations, only Nigeria is a member of OPEC.

He says that there may be enough rare-earth metals to eventually sustain a switch to electric vehicles, but that the world economy currently isn't ready for it.  And a premature switch could hand even greater world dominance to a growing nation whose human rights violations and lawlessness are considered by many to be a serious threat, he says.

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