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Chinese price manipulation has taken its toll on the U.S. economy

Rare earth metals are an increasingly integral part of everything from automobiles to television sets.  But the precious metals are tightly controlled by China, with an excess of 95 percent of current suplly coming from Chinese-owned mines and refineries.  The degree of control has allowed China to manipulate prices, cutting back on demand to sell less material for the same amount of profit, any businessperson's dream.

I. New Private-Public Partnership Sets Aim on Chinese Mineral Hegemony

The problem is that it takes several years or more to bring rare earth metal mines and refineries online; and the capital costs of such facilities are very high.  It took China decades of clever planning to set itself in its current peachy position of rare earth hegemony.  Now the U.S. is racing to try to recover, before Chinese price manipulation deals too much of a blow to the U.S. economy.

The U.S. Department of Energy has committed a relatively large investment of $120M USD to establish an Energy Innovation Hub under the supervision of Ames Labs to research ways to expand domestic rare earth production and otherwise cut reliance on Chinese rare earth supplies.

Rare earth metals
The U.S. is investing deeply to try to cut its reliance on Chinese rare earth metal supplies.
[Image Source: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg]

The new lab, dubbed the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), will be a joint effort between a number of large domestic firms in the private sector, universities, and top government research labs.  

In addition to Ames Lab, other national labs involved include Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).  On the university side, major contributors will include Brown Univ., the Colorado School of Mines (CSM), Purdue Univ., Rutgers Univ., Univ. of California-Davis (UC Davis), Iowa State Univ. (IA State), and the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute.

Corporate partners include General Electric Comp. (GE), OLI Systems Inc., Spintek Filtration, Advanced Recovery, Inc., Cytec Industries, Inc. (CYT), Molycorp Inc. (MCP), and Simbol, Inc. (Simbol Minerals).

II. Attacking the Problem From All Angles

Among the research projects will be:
  • Improve rare earth recycling/reuse
  • Improve extraction processes
  • Develop rapid deployment mining techniques
  • Develop rare earth material substitutes
  • Study and optimize supply chains to minimize waste
Top targets for domestic rare earth production include neodymium -- used in neodymium iron boron (NeFeB) hard drive magnets and cell phone components -- and samarium -- used in samarium cobalt (SmCo) drive magnets.  Currently the U.S. has no domestic neodymium producers and only one domestic samarium producer.

Neodymium
The U.S. has no domestic producers of neodymium magnets. [Source: ThinkGeek]

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a 2011 research report [PDF] suggests that the U.S. rare earth supply chain, phased out in the 1980s at a time when the 17-element family looked non-critical, will take approximately 15 years to rebuild.  The new lab aims to assist in that slow and arduous recovery.

The U.S. also will continue to purse action against China before the World Trade Organization (WTO) where it has filed complaints about the Chinese price manipulation.

Sources: DOE, Ames Lab



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RE: @#$%ing idoits...
By dsx724 on 1/10/2013 8:12:19 PM , Rating: 2
China warned about export restrictions back in 2006. What the hell did the world market do about it? Absolutely nothing. It's more a market failure because China gave plenty of notice. I hate how every article says China are manipulating the market when they clearly gave as much advanced notice as possible.


RE: @#$%ing idoits...
By knutjb on 1/10/2013 10:45:27 PM , Rating: 2
Weak arguement. This was after China had decimated all other companies in this industry by dumping its products on the market.

On the bright side Molycorp has a mine it is working on reopening. On the down side its in California.

W@#$$@$ are we, our Government, opening up anything in China.


RE: @#$%ing idoits...
By gn77b on 1/17/2013 6:10:04 AM , Rating: 2
A big thumbs up. I love how every comment thread on an article where the word "China" is mentioned eventually turns into a "they raped us" lament.
Especially when it's obvious that few have the bigger picture.


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