U.S. Spends $120M USD to Set up Rare Earth Research Center to Counter China
January 10, 2013 3:30 PM
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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.
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.
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RE: @#$%ing idoits...
1/13/2013 12:06:38 PM
Except that it's not true.
The biggest rare earth consumer used to be NiMH batteries, using cerium, lanthanum, and neodymium. Lithium ion batteries don't need rare earths. Same thing with motors/generators. With modern electronics, induction motors lose most of the drawbacks of their complicated operation, and they don't need any rare earths since they have no permanent magnet.
China's control over rare earth supply is an overblown problem. There aren't a whole lot of truly critical uses without substitutions available.
RE: @#$%ing idoits...
1/17/2013 6:03:40 AM
Except that it's not true.
The automotive industry relies on motors that use rare-earth permanent magnets. And no, I don't mean hybrid cars only, but also motors used in electric steering systems. And it's not neodymium alone, but dysprosium too. Even if it's a secondary ingredient, "rumor" has it that growing prices are enough to push companies (or at least departments) out of business.
Also, I think that China's natural supplies are extinguishing but I can't vouch for it. The Wikipedia article on dysprosium mentions that the automotive industry is the principal consumer.
All the economic theories in the world amount to nothing if hard facts are ignored.
The above is based on direct experience, except where otherwise noted.
"Vista runs on Atom ... It's just no one uses it". -- Intel CEO Paul Otellini
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