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EVs and hybrids are threatening to make the U.S. dependent on another dangerous foreign resource source -- China. Hybrids use twice the lanthanides as standard vehicles, and China controls 95 percent of lanthanide deposits.  (Source: Toyota)

China outguessed the U.S. and now stands to reap the rewards. Expert Robert Bryce estimates it will take 10 to 15 years for the U.S. to begin to tap its own lanthanide deposits.  (Source: ESPI Metals)
China outguessed the U.S. when it came to rare earth metals -- it may take 15 years to bring U.S. mines online

The auto industry seems to be moving towards embracing hybrids and electric vehicles.  One needs only look at examples like the 2011 Nissan LEAF and 2011 Chevy Volt, or the the new Chevy Volt MPV5 EV-crossover concept.

However, there's growing concern that the industry is casting a rather blind eye to what exactly the impact of its leap might be.  While about a third of U.S. oil comes from unstable regions like Nigeria and the Middle East, EVs present perhaps an equally challenging geopolitical resource problem.

According to Robert Bryce, author of the book "Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future", the current third-generation Toyota Prius uses 25 lbs. (11 kg) of expensive rare-earth metals -- approximately twice the amount found in a standard vehicle.

That's a big problem as rare earth metals, known scientifically as lanthanides are almost exclusively controlled by China.  Could this stranglehold slow progress of these new vehicles and hasten China's ascent to the world's most dominant economy?  These are concerns that Bryce has been voicing.

Bryce describes,"95% and 100% of the world’s supply of this entire row of the periodic table [is controlled by China]."

The biggest uses of lanthanides are in the battery pack and electric motor of hybrids and EVs.  Bryce believes that lanthanide demand will outpace supply as early as 2013, slowing the industry's growth and allowing China to raise its resource prices.  He states, "There are no significant supplies (of lanthanides) that can come on stream in anything close to the time span the market need."

Currently, 100,000 tons (90,718 t) per year of lanthanides are manufactured and utilized.  That figure is expected to soon rise.  Bryce says, "Estimates are that within two-three years the market demand will be 120,000-130,000 tons (108,862-117,932 t) per year."

Worldwide there's 99 million tons (89.8 million t) of rare earth metals, but it's expensive and tricky to tap these reserves.  It also takes time -- up to 15 years.  The U.S. currently has no working lanthanide mines, though it does have lanthanide resources.  

The bottom line is that China outguessed the U.S. and the rest of the world, wisely recognizing the value of the resource in 1980s and early 90s and committing to the expensive up front investment to harvest them.  Now 10 to 15 years later, it is reaping the rewards, while the U.S. is left wondering what to do.

China is well aware of its position and plans to fully exploit it now.  Former Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping remarked some time ago, "There is oil in the Middle East, there are rare-earths in China; we must take full advantage of this resource."

Bryce warns that the rush to EVs and hybrids may put the U.S. in a bind.  He states, "In this headlong rush to go ‘green,’ we are essentially trading one type of import reliance for another.  We are going to be more dependent on a single market, where there’s no transparency and one dominant market player who happens to own most of our debt already."

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RE: I doubt we will ever catch up...
By whiskerwill on 4/30/2010 1:26:39 PM , Rating: 5
Exactly. A mine might kill a rare earthworm or something. We can't be allowed to produce our own resources here.

The enviros won't be happy until the entire US economy is based around nothing but selling haircuts, hemp, and hand-harvested organic bean sprouts.

RE: I doubt we will ever catch up...
By porkpie on 4/30/2010 1:44:08 PM , Rating: 1
To really get your alliteration motif going, you should have said: "haircuts, hemp, and hand-harvested herbs and honey".

By Steve1981 on 4/30/2010 2:04:54 PM , Rating: 4
No!!!!!!!! Not honey!! Honey is an animal product and therefore evil.

RE: I doubt we will ever catch up...
By Hieyeck on 4/30/2010 1:54:16 PM , Rating: 1
Are you kidding? The hemp fields are a plague upon the earth. It's taking up valuable space for grass. Both kinds.

RE: I doubt we will ever catch up...
By chick0n on 4/30/2010 4:13:11 PM , Rating: 1
will DEP/GreenPeace/Treehugger tell us to commit suicide cuz humans are a plague to earth.? :(

RE: I doubt we will ever catch up...
By Akrovah on 4/30/2010 6:56:34 PM , Rating: 5
If they do I shall invite them to go first.

RE: I doubt we will ever catch up...
By FITCamaro on 5/1/2010 11:17:50 PM , Rating: 2
I already did that to a girl who called us a plague and said how there needs to be less of us. She's still alive.

Bag of irony. She thinks we're a plague but loves her boyfriend being into cars that supposedly destroy the planet.

By hathost on 5/4/2010 1:21:08 PM , Rating: 2
Either way if we can't drill for oil in our own country how are we going to mine rem's?

By RugbyChix on 5/3/2010 8:56:55 AM , Rating: 2
I am pretty ambivalent about the EPA and man made global warming. But mining is a different beast, poorly engineered mines are dangerous to the miners and VERY dangerous to the ground water supply.

Do you know how many mines are superfund sites? Many! So your choice is to have the Lithium quickly, see a few people makes scads of cash and then watch as the local kids get renal failure from lithium exposure OR let the EPA do their job. As a bonus those people who made the scads of money will be out of dodge while the taxpayers get to pay for the cleanup.

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