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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: Let's put it in perspective!
By Akrovah on 4/30/2010 1:27:31 PM , Rating: 3
EVs, in thier current form, still require the same lanthenides needed by a gas powered engine because (doh!) the still have ICEs to extend their range like the volt. This means they still need those catalytic converters, and they still need the refined Petrolium, in addition to the lanthenides used in the battery packs and electric motors. Consumption goes UP unless you can completely do away with the ICE which simply isn't feasble at this point, nor do I think it will be at all in teh near future.


RE: Let's put it in perspective!
By usbseawolf2000 on 4/30/2010 1:35:42 PM , Rating: 3
Volt is not an EV. It is a hybrid that you can plug in.

For hybrids, you may still need catalytic converters but the petroleum consumption drops by 50%. Therefore half of petroleum refinement is 12.5% drop in lanthenides need.


RE: Let's put it in perspective!
By Jedi2155 on 4/30/10, Rating: 0
By usbseawolf2000 on 4/30/2010 4:53:58 PM , Rating: 2
Who classifies ER-EV? Marketing department?

Look up the engineering definition of a hybrid. It is based on power source, not what drives the wheel. Volt is a plugin series hybrid.

Gas engine sometimes do warm up the battery pack prior to initial 40 EV miles, in freezing weather.


RE: Let's put it in perspective!
By JediJeb on 4/30/2010 4:14:36 PM , Rating: 2
Not sure which hybrids you are figuring there but most hybrids on the road do not get 2x the gas mileage as their non hybrid counterparts (eg Ford Focus Hybrid vs Ford Focus). The fuel usage probably won't drop by 50% and also the usage of lanthanides in petroleum distillation probably doesn't drop linearly with reduction of amount distilled.


By usbseawolf2000 on 4/30/2010 5:01:50 PM , Rating: 1
I was comparing Prius to Camry, Accord, Altima, Malibu midsize sedans. They get about 25-26 mpg.

You can't compare Camry vs. Camry hybrid because it is designed with non-hybrid in mind to support V6 under the hood as well. The Camry hybrid has more power and faster than the I4 Camry but less than V6. So it is about 5 cylinder equivalent. It is hard to compare.

It is better to compare a non-hybrid midsize to a hybrid midsize that build from ground up.


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