U.S. Spends $120M USD to Set up Rare Earth Research Center to Counter China
January 10, 2013 3:30 PM
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.
U.S. Department of Energy
a relatively large investment of $120M USD to establish an
Energy Innovation Hub
under the supervision of
to research ways to expand domestic rare earth production and otherwise cut reliance on Chinese rare earth supplies.
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
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
(ORNL). On the university side, major contributors will include
Colorado School of Mines
Univ. of California-Davis
Iowa State Univ.
(IA State), and the
Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute
Corporate partners include General Electric Comp. (
OLI Systems Inc.
Advanced Recovery, Inc.
, Cytec Industries, Inc. (
), Molycorp Inc. (
II. Attacking the Problem From All Angles
Among the research projects will be:
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.
The U.S. has no domestic producers of neodymium magnets. [Source: ThinkGeek]
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
about the Chinese price manipulation.
"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke
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