Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Earth Technology

China and Japan Covet the Same Rare-Earth Metals 159

Posted by timothy
from the as-do-we-all dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from The Australian: "Japan's increasingly frantic efforts to lead the world in green technology have put it on a collision course with the ambitions of China and dragged both government and industry into the murky realm of large-scale mineral smuggling."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

China and Japan Covet the Same Rare-Earth Metals

Comments Filter:
  • Great! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by viyh (620825) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @02:17AM (#28156035) Homepage
    At least it's breeding competition to do something good for once. This is the kind of stuff governments should be doing.
    • Re:Great! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Sunday May 31, 2009 @02:48AM (#28156219) Homepage Journal

      Except the Chinese government is trying to control the market and shut down competition, and the Japanese government is ... doing something, presumably, but what isn't exactly clear from TFA. They could try to promote competition, but unsurprisingly, it doesn't sound like they're doing it.

      • by viyh (620825)
        Agreed, but in any case, this is better than no attention being paid to it at all. The problems will get worked out in the long run because, after all, "green technology" is needed to solve world-wide problems. We are all in this together.
    • Re:Great! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kirijini (214824) <kirijini@yahoo . c om> on Sunday May 31, 2009 @03:15AM (#28156339)

      Nope. Japan and China are "competing" for different things, presumably only one of which most westerners will support.

      China is trying to own the supplies/means of production for rare earth metals. Apparently they own most of the existing supply/production, and are moving to own supplies and/or the mining companies that produce the supplies elsewhere in the world.

      Japanese auto manufacturers are giant consumers of rare earth metals, presumably to make batteries for their hybrids, and so Japan is competing for a larger supply to consume.

      The BAD thing here (to most westerners) is that China is locking down the market for rare earth metals, which are apparently important for many renewable energy technologies. This is bad because western countries are being very aggressive about renewable energy, but China can either frustrate those efforts or make them really expensive.

      The GOOD thing here (to most westerners) is that there is apparently a huge black market for these materials, which means that China can't control its own producers very well. This could lead to market reform in China - the market may be freed up as Chinese producers, seeking more profits, fight the political actors in China who favor export quotas. Freer Chinese markets = less power of the Chinese government on world trade.

      • Re:Great! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jurily (900488) <jurily@NOSPam.gmail.com> on Sunday May 31, 2009 @03:43AM (#28156409)

        Japanese auto manufacturers are giant consumers of rare earth metals, presumably to make batteries for their hybrids, and so Japan is competing for a larger supply to consume.

        Japan is a puny island with a huge industry. They're competing for resources. This isn't news since 1930.

        • Japan is a puny island with a huge industry.

          Geography isn't always the best power indicator. Japan may be small, but they have a great deal of control in the world economy. China won't let them at rare earth metals? They'll find a way to use metals that *are* available to them, or to get the metals they need.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Jurily (900488)

            Geography isn't always the best power indicator. Japan may be small, but they have a great deal of control in the world economy.

            We are talking about Japan, after all. You know, the ones who already invaded China once, and the ones who needed nuclear bombs to surrender.

            • That was pretty much my point to OP.
            • by kestasjk (933987) *
              I'm not an anti-nuke wacko, but I had heard that the resignation had been a forced move anyway, though when the bombs dropped it was siezed upon as a way to surrender with dignity. Corrent me if I'm wrong
              • by afidel (530433)
                There were two camps competing within the power structure, the civilian one which was basically resigned to surrender and a hardline contingent within the military that wanted to fight to the last man. The bomb was the final push that forced most of the military contingent to realize they were fighting a futile battle.
      • Re:Great! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by SlashWombat (1227578) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @05:16AM (#28156713)
        I imagine its not for batteries, but for permanent magnets. The strongest permanent magnets all rely on "rare earths", most of which come from china, as the article implies.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dravik (699631)
        .

        The GOOD thing here (to most westerners) is that there is apparently a huge black market for these materials, which means that China can't control its own producers very well. This could lead to market reform in China - the market may be freed up as Chinese producers, seeking more profits, fight the political actors in China who favor export quotas. Freer Chinese markets = less power of the Chinese government on world trade.

        You just might be surprised at how fast the producers fall in line with the Chine

        • by Chmcginn (201645) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @05:52AM (#28156847) Journal

          You just might be surprised at how fast the producers fall in line with the Chinese government after one or two are executed.

          Unless you're implying China is going to assassinate foreign industrialists, you're apparently confused. Most of the known reserves of rare earth metals aren't in China - the problem, for Japan, is that China has negotiated exclusive trading rights with several developing countries over their stocks of rare earth metals. So the local governments may even be in on this 'black market' - the problem is that if they openly sell directly to Japanese companies, China will bring suit against them in the WTO.

    • by Fuzzums (250400)

      hear hear! :)

  • WOW! (Score:5, Funny)

    by creimer (824291) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @02:21AM (#28156063) Homepage
    A rare-earth metal so rare that it doesn't even have a name without RTFA.
  • The US used to have a currency backed by the barrel of oil. $20 bought a barrel. Or so the tin-foil-hat-wearing gold-bugs say.

    Now that oil has more or less peaked, perhaps renewable resources will take off. Maybe China will get to print the world currency.

    • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Sunday May 31, 2009 @03:02AM (#28156295) Journal
      All currency is backed by trust, even gold/oil. Gold has little intrinsic worth and oil's intrinsic value is that is can be burnt to do usefull work, with any currency you are simply trusting that your fellow man will see it as a token that can be swapped for something with intrinsic value such as food, shelter, oil, etc. China is the modern equivalent of the Medici family, they may well end up printing the default currency one day but that will be because the huge government deficits around the globe are largely funded by China's massive trade surplus. They have not yet threatened to derail the gravy train but Hu has stated several times that he will only continue to fund deficits in the west while it's "economically sustainable" to do so.
      • Ohh, gold has significant intrinsic worth: its use for industry and effectiveness as a very malleable, highly conductive noble metal that can be handled in nearly monomolecular layers make it very effective for all sorts of industrial uses. But yes, its use and manipulations for decoration and economic market uses are quite out of scale with its industrial use.

        This wasn't always the case: The invention of steel, the assembly line, and the invention of bank notes all distorted the value of easily worked, sta

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TapeCutter (624760) *
          I didn't mean it was completely useless, what I was trying to say is that you can't eat it. I agree Issac Newton's "gold standard" was a brilliant step forward in economics, he understood that gold was usefull as a token because it's hard to come by and because everyone has trust in the idea that it will always be hard to come by and can be swapped for food, etc. However it's value collapses when it occasionally becomes easier to obtain, take a look at what occured across Europe when Spain doubled the avail
      • Gold has little intrinsic worth

        There is no such thing as intrinsic worth, at all, for anything, including food. There are only desirable properties, and the desire for those properties changes on a second by second basis for each individual and their circumstance. If I own a dozen palaces, then the "intrinsic value" of an additional hovel for shelter is close to zero for me.

        Gold is scarce; it is difficult to counterfeit and difficult to mine.
        Gold doesn't oxidize or otherwise degrade.
        Gold is easily divisible.
        Gold is easily moved and hidde

  • Shame... (Score:5, Funny)

    by cffrost (885375) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @02:35AM (#28156151) Homepage
    If only Japan coveted lead, they could come to some arrangement.
    • ... And if things go downhill from here, we may expect some uranium in our cereals all over the world, even if we didn't covet that at all.

  • have very little relationship to each other. OP simply doesn't say what TFA does. Who was it did the OP again?
  • rare-earths (Score:5, Insightful)

    by confused one (671304) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @02:52AM (#28156253)
    are only rare on Earth. Time to start asteroid mining.
    • by rumith (983060)

      are only rare on Earth.

      Citation, please?

      Time to start asteroid mining.

      You do understand, of course, the astronomic (pun intended) price of the resources mined in the asteroid belt?

      • by noundi (1044080) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @04:40AM (#28156569)

        You do understand, of course, the astronomic (pun intended) price of the resources mined in the asteroid belt?

        You know what? [thebestpag...iverse.net]

      • Re:rare-earths (Score:5, Informative)

        by confused one (671304) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @09:01AM (#28157587)

        are only rare on Earth. Citation, please?

        Actually, it was all said tongue in cheek. Having gotten that out of the way... As someone else pointed out, they're only considered "rare-earths" for historical reasons. I believe some of the platinum groups are less abundant; but, equally necessary to support our technology. In either case, the relative abundance of elements on Earth should be relatively similar throughout the inner solar system, with some tendancy for sorting by mass as the original cloud condensed to form the Sun and planets.

        You do understand, of course, the astronomic (pun intended) price of the resources mined in the asteroid belt?

        It's very high. Most of the cost is in launching the equipment and supplies needed. Then there's manpower and support. Consider NEO 433 Eros, a relatively easy target to which we have sent a robotic probe. It has a metal content which, by one estimate, is worth $20 Trillion (US) at current market prices. The technology and marketplace might not support a mining expedition to Eros right now; but, it's conceivable that in the near future a business case could be made for such an effort. Now consider that 433 Eros is only 3% metal content. Another example with higher metal content is 4660 Nereus. There are hundreds more which have orbits that bring them near Earth.

        • by Reziac (43301) *

          "Consider NEO 433 Eros, a relatively easy target to which we have sent a robotic probe. It has a metal content which, by one estimate, is worth $20 Trillion (US) at current market prices."

          Sounds like a way to pay off the national debt -- is there one close enough and small enough that we could send up a couple of robotic engines and drag the thing into a more convenient orbit? I'm wondering whst the cost vs benefits would be, given only current tech. Maybe a trillion spent, but $20T gained??

          • Well, that's sort of my point. We don't (currently) have the technology available to pull that much mass back to Earth orbit. For that matter, we can't get to the Moon and back with what we've got available right now. In the next two or three decades we will have the building blocks needed for small scale operations (a pilot plant, if you will). Clearly there's the possiblity of profit, if you can make the massive initial outlay. You can then use the initial mining operations to boot-strap the 2nd gene

          • To answer the question that I glossed over before... We don't have the engines technology right now which could do the job. According to NASA, as of May 25 2009, there are 6185 Near Earth Asteroids, 779 of which are over 1km in diameter, (quick math: 5406 are under 1km); so, we have a few candidates to choose from.
      • by vrmlguy (120854)

        are only rare on Earth.

        Citation, please?

        Here's one: http://www.tricitiesnet.com/donsastronomy/mining.html [tricitiesnet.com]

        And here's about 165,000 more: http://www.google.com/search?q=space+asteroids+rare+earth+metals [google.com]

    • They really aren't that rare. The naming is a historical relic. While they aren't common like, say, silicon, many other elements that aren't "rare earth" aren't either.

  • by Norsefire (1494323) * on Sunday May 31, 2009 @02:53AM (#28156257) Journal
    Like buying gold in WoW?
  • Why is this news? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Rare-earths aren't only in China. China is simply making rare-earths available cheaper than it would be for countries to mine them themselves.

    News flash: Japan imports nearly everything.

     

  • by timmarhy (659436) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @03:09AM (#28156323)
    it's time to start checking under your beds for communists kids.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 31, 2009 @03:34AM (#28156373)

    Lithium (presumably for lithium-ion electric car batteries) is not a rare-earth metal. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_earth_element

    Which element(s) are we fussing about? Why are they useful for green tech?

    Lanthanum: very useful for green tech. Hydrogen fuel cell-related.
    Hydrogen sponge alloys can contain lanthanum. These alloys are capable of storing up to 400 times their own volume of hydrogen gas in a reversible adsorption process. Heat energy is released

    Cerium: maybe useful for green tech. Maybe motor magnets.
    Cerium is used in alloys that are used to make permanent magnets.

    Praseodymium: maybe marginally useful for green tech. Lightweight cars.
    As an alloying agent with magnesium to create high-strength metals that are used in aircraft engines

    Neodymium: very useful for green tech. Strong motor magnets.
    Neodymium magnets are the strongest permanent magnets known.

    Promethium: probably not useful for green tech.
    Light sources.

    Samarium: probably not useful for green tech.
    Headphone magnets.
    Alloys.

    Europium: probably not useful for green tech.
    Red color in CRTs.

    Gadolinium: probably not useful for green tech.
    Garnets.
    CDs.
    MRIs.

    Terbium: marginally useful for green tech.
    Solid state devices.
    Alloys that respond strongly to a magnetic field. Sensor, actuator applications.
    "Green" phosphors. Ha.

    Dysprosium: very useful for green tech. Strong motor magnets.
    * Neodymium-iron-boron magnets can have up to 6% of the neodymium substituted with dysprosium[15] to raise the coercivity for demanding applications such as drive motors for hybrid electric vehicles.
    * This substitution would require up to 100 grams of dysprosium per hybrid car produced.
    * Based on Toyota's projected 2 million units per year, the use of dysprosium in applications such as this would quickly exhaust the available supply of the metal. The dysprosium substitution may also be useful in other applications, as it improves the corrosion resistance of the magnets
    * Currently, most dysprosium is being obtained from the ion-adsorption clay ores of southern China.

    Holium: maybe useful for green tech.
    Very strong magnets.
    Cubic zirconia.
    Lasers.

    Erbium: useful for green tech, but probably not in the article's context, which was automotive.
    Nuclear control rods.
    Cubic zirconia.
    Lasers.
    Cryocoolers.

    Thulium: scarce; probably not useful for green tech.
    Superconductors.
    Microwave equipment.
    X-ray devices, in a nuclear reactor.

    Ytterbium: useful for green tech, but probably not in the article's context, which was automotive.
    Convert infrared light to electricity in solar cells.
    X-ray source. Steel dopant.
    Optics, lasers.

    Lutetium: scarce; useful for green tech, but probably not in the article's context, which was automotive.
    Catalyst in process of making OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes).

    It turns out China (and to some extend Australia) are rich in these ores that contain lanthanum, neodymium, terbium, and dysprosium:
    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastnasite
    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monazite
    Other ores:
    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenotime
    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fergusonite
    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gadolinite
    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euxenite
    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycrase
    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blomstrandine

    The Australian News article is probably worrying over China controlling bastnasite and monazite, which notably have neodymium and dysprosium, which are used for magnets, which go in motors, which go in electric cars, which is a green tech. A car is pictured in the article.

    Working the lanthanum angle wrt fuel cells seems less likely.

    Also, an AC on /. that read Wikipedia is not a reliable source :)

  • Rare? If that's the case, then at least we know it is NOT Pb. There's plenty of that stuff [usrecallnews.com] to go around, apparently.
  • by The_Quinn (748261) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @03:44AM (#28156413) Homepage

    What really stood out to me in TFA:

    there are now a lot of [green] technologies that can't work without rare earths, and China is currently in effective control of the global supply.

    So I am thinking to myself: 1) The U.S. is amassing trillions and debt, much of it held by the Chinese, and 2) The Chinese own the key elements required by certain Green technology - which the U.S. government is pushing toward.

    Did I just catch a glimpse of the slow arc of the decline of the U.S.? Is the U.S. grabbing its own ankles, or what!?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by timmarhy (659436)
      All you people that think china has america by the balls have it back to front.

      China is SHITTING itself that america might not be able to pay back all those debts, they recently became nervous about this and it's seen in them asking for reassurance that their investments are safe. After all america still has a military that could easily repell any hostile advances, so exactly what recourse do you think china is going to have if america really starts to pack it in? the USA will just tell china to wait for i

      • by jmv (93421)

        the USA will just tell china to wait for it's money like a good boy.

        Just tell *any* country/institution that you won't pay your debt and you're in for a financial collapse because then nobody else will lend you anything.

        really it's in china's best interests to play nice with america as it's their number one customer, without them china's rise is finished as their own domestic demand can't support the double digit growth they have been enjoying (as seen in their 8% figure)

        It's not because China depends on th

  • What's the big deal? (Score:4, Informative)

    by dimension6 (558538) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @04:30AM (#28156545)
    From what I understand from the article, China only holds 95% of the supply because they are able to provide the metals for cheaper. If these Chinese companies took advantage of their "monopoly position" by raising prices significantly, then other countries/companies would simply mine their own rare earth metals. Right now, there's simply no economic incentive to increase the mining capacity.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      From what I understand from the article, China only holds 95% of the supply because they are able to provide the metals for cheaper.

      It's a poor article.
      China holds 97% of the output, mostly because they own the processing plants.
      China only has ~50% of the global supply, but has bought control of even more.

      If these Chinese companies took advantage of their "monopoly position" by raising prices significantly, then other countries/companies would simply mine their own rare earth metals.

      It isn't about mining, it is about refining.
      Almost all roads lead to Chinese processing plants.

  • Coming next: "Japanese and Chinese production of Harvesters up 500%"
  • Oh fun... what irony.

    So we will go from being dependent on foreign oil to being dependent on foreign rare-earth metals? So much for alternative energy setting us free from political messes over energy?

    • > So we will go from being dependent on foreign oil to being dependent on foreign
      > rare-earth metals?

      These metals are found at low concentrations pretty much everywhere. The highest-yielding deposits currently known may be in China but they aren't much better than lower yielding deposits elsewhere. Also, there has not yet been much exploration for them. It is likely that the best deposits have not yet been found.

  • by Anonymous Bullard (62082) on Sunday May 31, 2009 @08:14AM (#28157379) Homepage

    BACKGROUND: From 1930's until 1945 Imperial Japan and Nazi-Germany were engaged in a militaristic expansion of their Lebensraum (lit. german expression meaning "living space for their own ethnicity") while attempting to grab foreign countries' natural resources to feed their industries (including the important military-industrial complex). This was in fact a "modern" replay of age-old imperialism and something that the most recent dominant empires, such as Britain, Russia and China had been at until then.

    After WWII, (Soviet) Russia emerged as the greatest beneficiary in terms of imperial territory, while the recently democratized Britain had to begin surrendering the sovereignty of most of their empire's territory back to their native peoples.

    Meanwhile the secretive and reclusive Chinese empire of Middle Kingdom, with its age-old imperial view of its neighbouring countries (of non-Chinese and non-sinicized peoples) as mere vassal states, was being taken over by Mao's communist dictatorship which uniquely combined the Marxist doctrines (like internationalism) with its own Han-Chinese chauvism (racial and cultural superiority akin to Nazi ideology).

    Thus after the 1949 takeover of China by Mao the Soviet-backed "people's liberation" communist army was quickly sent to "liberate" and annex the vast territories of China's historical western neighbours, Mongols, Tibetans and Uighurs. Manchus in the north had at that point mostly been demographically assimilated already, despite Manchuria's widely recognized declaration of independence in 1932.

    The sparsely populated and non-Chinese Central-Asian nations of Tibetans, Mongols and Uighurs, however, were soon put under systematic colonial exploitation, including the sinister policy of settling massive numbers of uprooted Chinese settlers into the occupied territories in order to consolidate de facto Chinese imperial rule there for eternity.

    TODAY: The territories of Tibetans, turkic Uighurs and (South) Mongols (as Northern Mongolia regained its independence from Soviet Union in 1991) have been integrated into the centrally-planned industrial system of the (formerly communist) nazional-socialist Chinese empire by the virtue of their massive exploitable natural resources such as oil, gas, water and vast deposits of precious and industrial minerals of all kinds. Native people are still an annoyance to be dealt with, mainly through policies of Han-chauvinist propaganda and systematic sinicization enforced through strict military control.

    Here is one example article detailing China's ongoing industrial exploitation of the occupied territories. While this particular article doesn't refer to rare earth metals specifically, both South Mongolia and Tibet [highlandmining.com] are being mined for them.

    China mines Tibet's rich resources [cnn.com]

    The railway link to Tibet now appears to have been part of a broader plan to exploit vast deposits of metals in the disputed region, explains Fortune's Abrahm Lustgarten.

    When China opened its controversial new railway to Tibet last July, international critics howled at the prospect that the region's culture and environment would be ravaged in search of resources. China repeated a solemn refrain, its officials insisting that the $4 billion project was aimed not at plundering the disputed territory but at bringing prosperity and economic development to Tibetan society.

    So much for that. Now China's Ministry of Land and Resources is disclosing monumental new resource discoveries all across Tibet, and it turns out the findings are the culmination of a secret seven-year, $44 million survey project which preceded the railway construction in the first place.

    In 1999 more than 1000 researchers divided into 24 separate regiments and fanned out across the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, geologically mapping an area the s

    • My sister's work has offices in China. It's become clear to them (and the Chinese will tell you this to your face, if you ask) that China's REAL motivation with all this new "capitalism" is in sucking all the wealth out of the West.

      Which goes right along with what you said. (Interesting post, BTW.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Given the weakness and corruption of late Qing dynasty China, they were hardly expanding anywhere. In fact, China endured over a century of humiliation by foreign powers, including Russia, France, Germany, the US, and Japan, as they carved up "spheres of influence" and took Chinese land (Hong Kong by Britain, Jiaotong Peninsula by Germans, Taiwan by Japanese in the 1890s). Japan and Russia fought for control in Manchuria; the Japanese won that war, and had de-facto control of Manchuria until they allowed

      • Dear vampire baozi, nowhere did I refer to "Chinese expansion from 1800-1949" which you label as propagandist bullshit.

        Yet, since you bring it up, even the unpopular ("foreign") Manchu dynasty of Qing and the subsequent short-lived Republic, despite dealing with foreign imperial colonies on the coast (and later the Japanese in the north-east), imposed (or attempted to do so militarily but were defeated like in Tibet, until the PLA in 1950) Chinese colonial rule in the above-mentioned neighbouring people's t

  • In other news, China is also competing for oil, steel, and hair care products....G7 nations are in a panic and the world economy is probably going to implode and civilization as we know it will end at midnight tonight.

    Check back tomorrow for all the details as this exclusive story unfolds.

  • If it's using up an extremely finite resource -- how "green" is it, really??

    I'd say -- not at all, and that any "greenery" is a temporary illusion.

"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods." -- Albert Einstein

Working...