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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: 15 year breakdown
By sinful on 4/30/2010 7:11:25 PM , Rating: 5
Instead of blaming corporations, why not focus on the real problem? You cannot open a new mine in the US any more. It takes years of trying to get permits from the EPA and state regulators. Then you have to spend even longer fighting off legal challenges from various environmental groups.

We had corporations since the country began and that never stopped mining before. We had cheap overseas labor also. The mines didn't start getting shut down until all the environmental regulations got passed in the 1960s-1980s.

Baloney. Coal mining, for instance, peaked in 2008.

The real reason is the same reason that the IT industry has been assimilated by India -- it isn't because "environmental regulations" have hampered tech support / call centers, it's because it's now feasible to have cheap labor in far off countries do the same job -- and ship the product back -- for less than it costs an American to do the job.

Yes, we've always had cheap labor overseas, but until "modern times" you couldn't transport vast amounts of goods to the US cheaply.

China has a stranglehold on the RE metals because they're mining it so CHEAPLY.


It's the same reason why drilling for oil in the US is a dumb idea -- the Arabs are producing at $1/barrel and it costs us $40/barrel to produce.

You'd have to be a necon not to understand the economics of having your competitors have THAT amount of a price advantage over you.

RE: 15 year breakdown
By porkpie on 4/30/2010 11:31:33 PM , Rating: 2
"Yes, we've always had cheap labor overseas, but until "modern times" you couldn't transport vast amounts of goods to the US cheaply."

Err, what? I don't suppose you realize that, during the 1890s, many Californians were having their laundry done in China ...shipped by fast-sailing clipper ship, both ways. Cheap shipping is not something that's occurred in the past 20 years.

Your coal mining example fails. Environmental regulations hit coal primarily where its burned , not where its mined. Look at metal mining for the real data.

Chromium mining: peaked in 1974
Nickel mining: peaked in 1969
Tungsten mining: peaked in 1970
USA copper mining: peaked in 1996

For most metals and minerals, no new mines have been opened in decades...and environmentalists are trying hard to shut down the ones we have.

For instance, a single mine in Alaska produces 80% of US zinc...and the EPA is now considering whether it should be forced to close (links modified because of DT's braindead anti-spam system): oud-over-worlds-largest-zinc-mine.aspx

Here, the EPA is shutting down the largest mine in the state of WV: id=78162

Here's the EPA saying no to a new copper mine in MN: a-polymet-criticism/

EPA ruling blocks a uranium mine in NM: task=view&id=6287&Itemid=76

EPA blocks a sulfide mine: 80%99s-proposal-open-pit-sulfide-mine-%E2%80%9Cunac ceptable%E2%80%9D

EPA blocks expansion of phosphate mine in NC: ines-expansion-061809/

Court blocks permit for copper mine in AZ: 0

Court blocks permit for copper and silver mine in Montana: s_mine_beneath_cabinet_mountain_wilderness/16883/

RE: 15 year breakdown
By Starcub on 5/1/2010 10:55:29 AM , Rating: 2
Err, what? I don't suppose you realize that, during the 1890s, many Californians were having their laundry done in China ...shipped by fast-sailing clipper ship, both ways. Cheap shipping is not something that's occurred in the past 20 years.

Just how much of the cost of foreign made goods can be attributed to just shipping?

Among other things, the rash of 'free trade' agreements between the US and foreign governments were and are designed to eliminate tarrifs and 'level the playing field'. In reality, they are often little more than a means to tip the balance of trade in favor of US corporate interests -- conducted with cheap foreign 'politicians'.

RE: 15 year breakdown
By FITCamaro on 5/1/2010 11:35:23 PM , Rating: 2
The EPA will be the death of all business in America. There is an aluminum plant here in charleston that will shut down if crap and tax passes. No way they can absorb a 20% increase in energy costs. Nor can most people. And thats probably on the low estimate. Higher power bills, higher food costs, lost jobs to overseas manufacturers, high materials costs, etc. The price of EVERYTHING will go up if this legislation passes. And Obama would still have the balls to say they haven't raised taxes on 95% of people.

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