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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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should be no suprise
By invidious on 4/30/2010 2:02:58 PM , Rating: 2
The US hasn't started mining these things yet because the demand for hybrids is not based on economics, it is based on environmentalism. Which up until the last few years has had nothing to do with making money.

It will probably take a decade or so for EVs to actually be mature enough to be economically viable. Meaning actually save you money if you buy one, even without massive government subsadization. The mining industry can't be expected to be in tune with the environmentalist fad of the week.

I don't think China necisarilly predicted this either. They simply have lower environmental regulation and cheaper manual labor. They can mine their countrysides to their heart's content. So as soon as prices started to go up they started mining immediately, whereas it takes us half a decade to open a new mine.

RE: should be no suprise
By aguilpa1 on 4/30/2010 3:53:11 PM , Rating: 2
that makes more sense than anything in the above article. Also if everything is so green bound, a good chunk of those materials should be recycle to be used again on newer models. Is that not the whole point of green?

RE: should be no suprise
By Starcub on 5/1/2010 11:25:12 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think China necisarilly predicted this either. They simply have lower environmental regulation and cheaper manual labor.

The Chinese govt. is not an electoral body. It has the authority and ability to do whatever it wants, and thus they dictate their own health in the global economy. In the past they have been narrowly focused on cost. However, things have become so bad in industrial centers that they have recently recognized the need to embrace green technologies. They don't look at economics and the environment as independent concepts like unnacountable shortsighted executives and politicians do.

The US auto industry should have been working with governement to embrace the future. Instead it seems they have been working to kill it in an effort to maximize short term profitability.

RE: should be no suprise
By hathost on 5/4/2010 1:47:35 PM , Rating: 2
They also have no concern for private property rights or the individual rights of their citizens. So if a few million farmers starve to death because the government took all their food oh well right?

Also the auto industry is not in the business to provide a better environment it is up to the consumer to make the decision of what they want to own and for the car manufacturers to try to supply that vehicle at a profitable rate. If they aren't producing an environmentally friendly car that's because consumers don't want them and they can't make a profit providing them. In any event the auto makers have ben stuck trying to meet govt regulations for years which in addition to poor bargaining with the unions has lead to their bankruptcy and are now govt owned. Have fun with your govt car maybe in a few years when the govt has more control over industry and drives the other auto manufaturers out of business we can have a several year wait to get a car like the Soviets used to have. See you in the cheese line.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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