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US Sits On Supply of Rare, Tech-Crucial Minerals 324

Posted by kdawson
from the third-of-a-chip-fab dept.
We've recently discussed China's position as the linchpin of the world's supply of rare earths, and their rumblings about restricting exports of of these materials crucial to the manufacture of everything from batteries to wind turbines. Now an anonymous reader sends this MSNBC piece on the status of the US's supply of rare earths. "China supplies most of the rare earth minerals found in technologies such as hybrid cars, wind turbines, computer hard drives, and cell phones, but the US has its own largely untapped reserves that could safeguard future tech innovation. Those reserves include deposits of both 'light' and 'heavy' rare earths... 'There is already a shortage, because there are companies that already can't get enough material,' said Jim Hedrick, a former USGS rare earth specialist who recently retired. 'No one [in the US] wants to be first to jump into the market because of the cost of building a separation plant,' Hedrick explained. ... [S]uch a plant requires thousands of stainless steel tanks holding different chemical solutions to separate out all the individual rare earths. The upfront costs seem daunting. Hedrick estimated that opening just one mine and building a new separation plant might cost anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion and would require a minimum of eight years. [But the CEO of a rare earth supply company said] 'From what I see, security of supply is going to be more important than the prices.'"
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US Sits On Supply of Rare, Tech-Crucial Minerals

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  • Supply and demand? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary@nOSpam.yahoo.com> on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @02:39PM (#31499410) Journal

    If these rare earths are so rare and valuable, and only going to become more so, why should the upfront cost matter? The plant should still make a huge profit, unless I am misunderstanding basic economics.

    Seems people in America only want to invest in fraudulent get rich quick gambling schemes these days. Actual resource extraction and manufacturing is for the peons.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Spy Handler (822350)
      Most likely the high cost and long wait times resulting from EPA, OSHA and various state agency regulations (not to mention fighting Greenpeace and other hippies) make it more economical to just import the stuff from China rather than try to mine it and build a processing plant here.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Talderas (1212466)

        People really underestimate the greens when it comes to obstructing progress.

        I mean come on, how can you trust a group that bitches about how unclean coal is and then holds up the building of Solar power with litigation waiting for environmental impact studies of plopping solar arrays in the middle of a desert.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Dishevel (1105119) *
          Or wind turbine farms that ruin the view of our politicians. [wgbh.org]
        • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @04:01PM (#31500594) Journal

          I mean come on, how can you trust a group that bitches about how unclean coal is and then holds up the building of Solar power with litigation waiting for environmental impact studies of plopping solar arrays in the middle of a desert.

          Oh yes. Let's admit we have a problem, and then go ahead and implement a solution without bothering to evaluate that solution.

          I hope to God you don't have any sort of responsibility for any systems I use.

          And, for what it's worth, do you really think that "greens" are part of a single organized group with a single platform of goals and ideals? Have you ever bothered to consider that "greens" constitute a large number of people with diverse concerns? It's quite possible for some people who are "greens" to think it's OK to damage wild deserts in the name of reducing carbon output -- and there are some "greens" who are more concerned with maintaining a natural environment.

          But whatever dude... your tired complaint of a large group of people having members with sometimes conflicting interests is useless for any kind of rational discussion.

      • by Walter White (1573805) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @03:04PM (#31499806)

        The minerals will sit there waiting until we are ready. In the mean time, separation technology will improve and (unless other sources are discovered) proce/value will increase. Once shortages occur, prices will skyrocket and producers will argue that we need to fast-track and sidestep environmental concerns in the name of security.

        - Profit!

        • Ultimately, separation costs are limited thermodynamically by the energy needed for separation. Therefore, they are tied to energy costs, which tend to go up lately. I have that feeling that the increase in energy costs might eat up the cost decrease by improved separation technique.
      • Yes, because I really want to get cancer from drinking water that is polluted by the mine that gathers these elements, or die in a mine collapse because the mine owner is too cheep to provide for safety bunkers.

        The number one rule for business is to internalize the profits, and externalized the costs.

        It is why gas is taxed to high in Europe. They are trying to capture the costs of the pollution and environmental hazards caused by the use of oil. It is why coal miners in the US die in a collapse, and the Eur

        • by Moridineas (213502) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @04:06PM (#31500640) Journal

          Yes, because I really want to get cancer from drinking water that is polluted by the mine that gathers these elements, or die in a mine collapse because the mine owner is too cheep to provide for safety bunkers.

          What year do you think this is, 1900? Mining is not perfectly safe. It never ever will be. In 2008 in the US, 15 people died in coal mine accidents. In 2007 the number was 21. In 2007, China -- the worst in the world -- had 4746 deaths.

          In 2007 the US produced 1,147 million short tons of coal. China produced 2,795.

          By comparison the only European countries with significant coal production are Germany and Poland. Germany produces about 1/5 of the US, and Poland produces even less (this is true presently and in 2007). Numbers for the European countries are hard to find, but accidents are not. Barely 6 months ago (2009) at least 17 miners died in Poland. Google Ruda Soska if you're unfamiliar with it.

          Am I missing anything here? Are the very few remaining European coal mines really that different from the US or Canada?

          It is why gas is taxed to high in Europe

          Is THAT why gas is taxed so highly in Europe?

          It is why coal miners in the US die in a collapse, and the European coal miners spend 3-4 days in an emergency shelter waiting to be dug out.

          See/rebut above?

      • by Kagato (116051)

        Cheap labor and no environmental concerns. You pollute the local village and give most of the kids cancer the maximum downside is they close the factory. It's just a building. You can always pull all the equipment out and build a factory somewhere else. That might change in 20 years, but right now China is still in the middle of it's Industrial Revolution.

      • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @03:28PM (#31500130) Homepage Journal

        Most likely the high cost and long wait times resulting from EPA, OSHA and various state agency regulations (not to mention fighting Greenpeace and other hippies) make it more economical to just import the stuff from China rather than try to mine it and build a processing plant here.

        If you had been alive before Nixon signed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water act you wouldn't be so anti-environment. When I grew up in Cahokia, you could not drive through Sauget past the Monsanto plant with your windows down, even in hundred degree heat. It didn't just stink, it burned your lungs. Nowdays it's rare that you even smell anything.

        I think my right to breathe should trump Monsanto's privilege of making billions of dollars of profits more than they already do. THIS is why Free Trade is a BAD idea -- how can someone who likes to breathe compete with a country who doesn't give a damn how filthy and poisoned their country is?

        As to OSHA, that protects YOU. Did you know that more people die in Chinese mines than all the other mines in the world? Protecting workers from sociopaths who don't value human life in the least is a GOOD thing, unless you're one of the sociopaths who don't care about human life and don't work in a dangerous industry.

        EPA regs are a GOOD thing, and only the woefully ignorant think otherwise. It would do you good to read a little history.

        Now get off my lawn, yuppie!

        • If you had been alive before Nixon signed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water act you wouldn't be so anti-environment. When I grew up in Cahokia, you could not drive through Sauget past the Monsanto plant with your windows down, even in hundred degree heat. It didn't just stink, it burned your lungs. Nowdays it's rare that you even smell anything.

          What's with the straw man? I don't think ANYBODY would argue against regulating such things. However, regulating toxic chemicals and noxious vapors is very different than deciding (e.g.) you can't build a wind farm because some birds are going to die.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by mcgrew (92797) *

            There's no straw man except the one you just constructed; we're talking about regulating the mining of TOXIC MINERALS, not putting up a wind farm, and the poster I responded to put forth that regulating these things was a bad idea. If you don't think anybody would argue againt regulating such things, then read the post I responded to.

      • IMHO it makes more sense to save our resources while the rest of the world's supplies dwindle to nothing. Then the United States (and Canada) can charge a small fortune since we will be the sole supplier for coal, oil, and other rare minerals. We will be as wealthy as Arab shieks.

        BUT that's long term thinking. It will be ignored.

        I was reading an interesting story about how enterprising New Englanders would transport frozen lake ice from Massachusetts/New Hampsphire, down the Alantic coast, and sell it to

      • by Abcd1234 (188840)

        Of course! Government regulation and hippies, the scapegoat for Slashdotters the world over! What didn't *I* think of that??

      • by eh2o (471262) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @03:42PM (#31500334)

        Its not the cost of regulation that is high, its the cost of doing things right and safely. China effectively uses human life and environmental destruction to offset production costs. So far there is no developed nation that is able to match the prices that the chinese are giving us, so it would seem that we are not willing to give up the protections that we now take for granted in a civilized society.

        Its economical to keep buying from them, but its not morally correct because we are simply enabling the the ruling class of chinese society to continue to exploit the land and people in ways that would be considered gross negligence if we saw it first hand.

    • by chill (34294)

      Because the common man (not you -- the general "drill baby drill" public) doesn't seem to grasp a few concepts. Minerals, including oil and rare earths, are of finite supply. Eventually, they will run low or out totally. When that happens, do we -- the U.S. -- want to be on the SUPPLY or DEMAND side of the equation?

      This is why the entire concept of "stop using foreign oil" is wrong. Who do we want pumped dry first? The Middle East, or the U.S.? Ditto with other critical resources. Which is why as lon

      • by eln (21727) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @03:03PM (#31499782) Homepage
        What a ridiculously short-sighted point of view. THEIR resources will run out eventually, and then we'll start using OUR resources, which will run out as well. Then what? Mad Max time?

        The only way to solve energy problems in the long term without eventually running out of resources is to use resources that are (for all practical purposes) infinite or infinitely renewable, like solar power or wind. With anything else, you're just kicking the can down the road.

        With things like minerals it's harder of course, because the reason we use these rare earth minerals is they have certain properties that make them desirable for the purpose we use them for. However, we can still put effort into developing renewable (or at least more abundant) alternatives where possible, and aggressively recycling materials whenever we can.
        • Well, strictly spoken, the earth is a (largely) closed system in terms of mass flow. Material resources don't get lost, only diluted. The more diluted, the harder they are to recover, energetically. From a thermodynamic point of view, we can't really have a resource shortage at all - only an energy shortage. You are absolutely right, though, that under that consideration, taking energy out of non-renewable sources is not the best idea. With the sun giving us 1.3 kW/m2, we should be fine in the long term, as
        • by bhima (46039) *

          Given America's inability to adopt serious ecological policies, the refusal to recycle tech waste and instead to transport it to developing nations... I'm not seeing any developing nation willing to take it ever running out of rare earth minerals to sell to the Chinese.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @02:49PM (#31499558) Journal
      From TFA: "But Cowle, the CEO of U.S. Rare Earths, seems hopeful that momentum has already begun building for the U.S. government to encourage development of its own rare earth deposits."

      Translation: "Dear Congress, give my company lots and lots of taxpayer money for free, or the yellow peril will eat your children, and you wouldn't want that, would you?"

      It sounds like he has every intention of making a huge profit, he'd just prefer to have taxpayers build his plant, offer him some nice tax "incentives", maybe waive an inconvenient environmental protection rule or two first...
      • by Alaren (682568) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @03:15PM (#31499952)

        While this is probably an accurate portrayal of the thought process, you've given it a modicum of unnecessary spin. Specifically:

        ...maybe waive an inconvenient environmental protection rule or two first...

        NIMBYism [wikipedia.org] is rampant in the United States, and the phrase "thousands of stainless steel tanks holding different chemical solutions" struck me as the kind of phrase that immediately gets people up in arms. While Cowle's remarks might be interpreted as grasping for handouts, they also sound like the laying ofgood-feelings groundwork for the kind of PR he will have to engage in to get legislative approval of this kind of project.

        Middle America's aversion to industry is based in large measure on its media exposure to some very real problems, but eventually the cost/benefit analysis is sufficient to cut through that aversion.

    • by russotto (537200)

      Seems people in America only want to invest in fraudulent get rich quick gambling schemes these days. Actual resource extraction and manufacturing is for the peons.

      Probably the environmental impact statement for opening such a separation plant outweighs (and outcosts) the equipment itself.

      Oddly, it's the so-called capitalists who have become stymied by paperwork and government bureaucracy, and the bureaucratic communists of China who have not. Of course they don't mind at all if their people drink and brea

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        Some of the nastiest and most polluted places on the planet are in the ex-Soviet Union.

        Totalitarianism does make certain things easier up to a point.

    • by Jeian (409916)

      Well, if a company were to set up shop here, they'd have to comply with all applicable federal/state/local environmental and safety guidelines, and pass on the cost to their buyers.

      Companies operating in China have no such problems (or, at least, not to the degree that they would here) and therefore would be able to sell those materials at a lower cost.

      Consequently, such a venture wouldn't be profitable UNLESS China cut off their exports of those materials.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by spun (1352)

        Seeing as demand for rare earths far outstrips supply, I don't think your explanation holds water. Even given the unfair trade advantage China holds by not upholding environmental standards, a US supplier could make a huge profit. Also, given that this story comes from a rare earths company, if environmental issues were a factor, you would have heard their whining. Plenty of new mines have opened up in the US. Heck, we're stripping the tops off of most of the Appalachians as we speak. I sincerely doubt tha

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Wyatt Earp (1029)

          Well, we don't even know how much of the rare earth minerals are in the US. Vast parts of the United States are either under surveyed or not surveyed at all.

          I'm up in Alaska and there is a huge fight over expanding mines and new mines.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_Mine [wikipedia.org]
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Dog_mine [wikipedia.org]

          http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/rare_earths/mcs-2010-raree.pdf [usgs.gov]
          "In 2009, rare earths were not mined in the United States."

          • by spun (1352)

            Wow, yeah, sounds like those mines are costing everyone else a lot of money by polluting. Why should I subsidize someone else's mining operation? They should pay all the costs they incur, and pollution costs money.

            What we should do is fine importers who damage the environment, in order to cover the costs. That will help out local industries that do the right thing and do not try to externalize their costs.

            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by Wyatt Earp (1029)

              Pebble Mine is the big fight here right now, probably the second biggest single copper deposit of its type on the planet.

              The main anti-mining group just had to pay 100,000 in "settlement" for funneling money into the anti-mining initiative.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "There is already a shortage, because there are companies that already can't get enough material, " ... at the price they want. The cost of extraction in the US is likely to be significantly higher than in China, due to environmental rules/lawsuits if nothing else. In all likelihood, the first such operation will be buried in lawsuits and bare the cost of setting case law. There is also the early adopter penalty - if we are only beginning to mine these elements, then it is likely that we have not develop

    • Actually, it's the same reason alternatives to gasoline weren't heavily researched (at least publicly) until after gas hit $3 per gallon. Below a certain cost, these processes just aren't profitable. It only makes sense to build if you honestly think the cost of the products in question will go up in the future (or stay the same) and maintain a profit margin long enough to justify the investment. What the companies are afraid of, is that they'll dump the $500M into the plants/mines, and then get into a p
      • by spun (1352)

        It is also a matter of opportunity cost. If you have no morals, and can make 100% profit on some insane debt gambling, in six months, or you could make a reasonably hefty 20% profit on this, but in eight years, where would you invest your money?

        Until we put a stop to Wall Street insanity, there will be no money to invest in actual useful projects like this.

    • Real simple, if I have $20 million and it costs me $1 million a year to maintain my rights to the minerals and it is going to take me 25 years to get all the permits I need to start producing product, I will run out of money before I can start selling anything.
      The problem is that there are large legal barriers that create delay in actually getting a return on investment. The larger the start up costs and the longer between initiating activity and actually generating any revenue, the more money one needs t
    • by Chyeld (713439)

      If it takes a billion to build the factory and needs eight years to get going, then you need to be able to raise a billion dollars, keep a float for over eight years before even hoping to break even (because you know that first year isn't going to produce a billion in profits).

      Not a scenario many can pull off.

      • The Nuclear Power Industry does this all the time. They have a horrid record when it comes to cost over runs and delays. Now they are trying to get rate payers to pay for the possible construction of a new nuclear plant that may or may not be built in the next 5 to 10 years.

        No insurance company will insure a nuclear plant.*
        No bank will loan money for construction of a nuclear plant.*

        *Without government guarantees.

    • The vast mineral districts in the western US are very expensive and risky to develop even though there are large, high-value mineral deposits available there. While old mining sites are sort of grandfathered in, developing a new mining site is prohibitively expensive for regulatory reasons such that the value of the resource has to be atypically high to offset the regulatory overhead. In short, opening a new mine in the western deserts has become kind of like trying to build a new nuclear power plant. Ther

    • by Kaboom13 (235759)

      Welcome to economics 101: Opportunity cost. Right now, investing in congressmen gives obscenely high returns, with little risk. Even when the bubble you paid them off to create bursts, they bail you out in a way that makes you even more money. Investing in this might be guaranteed to return a sizable profit at the end of 8 years it takes to build , and the 10+ years of operation it takes just to pay off it's construction. But that's 18 years you could have been making money hand over fist, and have eve

      • by spun (1352)

        We have a winner! The answer is "Opportunity cost!" That's right, why invest in things society find useful when you can gamble outrageously, crash the economy, and get paid billions? We've created a system that encourages pathology and rewards sociopaths. Yay us.

    • If these rare earths are so rare and valuable, and only going to become more so, why should the upfront cost matter? The plant should still make a huge profit, unless I am misunderstanding basic economics.

      You're misunderstanding basic economics on two fronts;

      1. High prices don't mean huge profits if there are high costs involved.
      2. And there will be high costs involved here - due the need to commit funds years in advance to work through the regulatory process, the inevitable lawsuits from NIMBYs. acquisi
    • When interests rates get so high, all the capital in a market floods to the finance industry because it offers large and immediate returns without many associated costs. The effect of deregulation, including the abolishment of usury laws early in the 20th century, has led to a world financial market that's basically a hundred trillion dollar casino. The Dow Jones number is perfectly meaningless in relation to the real economy. How many people are employed? What real goods are they producing? These are quest

  • What Problem? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sponge Bath (413667) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @02:47PM (#31499512)
    Buy cheap stuff from abroad while available and cheap. Mine locally if overseas supplies are restricted or prices get too high.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Jeff-reyy (1768222)
      Thanks for the advice, Sam Walton.
      • Thanks for the advice, Sam Walton

        IIRC Sam Walton believed in buying locally, or at least domestically. Corporations do not always continue with the policies and practices preferred by their founders.

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        Actually Sam Walton used to take pride in selling stuff made in the USA. Blame the current folks running Walmart and not the founder.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by spun (1352)

      Only it isn't cheap, these are some of the most expensive minerals on the planet. Given that demand outstrips supply right now, local owners could be making money off of this. And given that it takes eight years to get a plant going, wouldn't it be prudent to start now, rather than waiting for the Chinese to take all their balls and go home? Oh, but I guess I am asking the Free Market to actually think ahead instead of focusing on next quarter's immediate profits, silly me.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        You are misunderstanding the problem. The mining companies would *love* to develop the rich mineral deposits in the western US -- all mining is a long-term investment -- but it is politically impractical. Not only are there many years of regulatory overhead before you can even get permission to start (archaeological clearances, environmental impact studies, etc), you also find yourself plagued by routine lawsuits by environmental activist organizations. In short, you can waste decades trying to develop a

    • While that is generally a good strategy(and having China, among others, willing to screw its workers and poison the hell out of its environment in exchange for paper IOUs is pretty handy), it works slightly less well if startup times are high and forecasts of future conditions are poor or unavailable.
    • by Jeng (926980)

      The problem is the lack of processing in this country.

      Kinda like how the Middle-East was buying petroleum products from the US because we had the refineries. We could mine the hell out of the minerals, but if we can't process it someone else will be getting the profit.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      Didn't the article say a new plant has about a 10 year ramp-up time?

    • by MikeURL (890801)
      Well, if you follow that strategy long enough you lose the expertise necessary to even build and run such an operation. this is particularly true if it something so big and complex that it needs a decade to get up and running.
  • by jimbobborg (128330) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @02:51PM (#31499586)

    For the same reason they aren't drilling for oil off the coasts. You know, if you don't start now, it's going to take even LONGER before production is spun up. And by then, we'll have yet another dumb ass in office and we can't mine this stuff out for whatever reason (NIMBY, clean air, whatever). Even if the company stockpiles it, the material is still an asset and can be used when the Chinese decide to close their borders because of another cultural revolution.

    • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @03:11PM (#31499908)

      The real reason we are not drilling offshore, is that it will not reduce gas prices more than 2 cents and will not make the US energy independant. There have been extensive studies on this and the oil is not just there. The EIA estimated that offshore drilling would reduce US gas prices by 2 cents. The areas offshore entire states contain enough oil to supply the US for only a few months. We could save more energy if people installed some more insulation in their homes and inflated their tires than we would ever get from offshore oil drilling. The idea that we can solve our problems with domestic drilling is a lie told by the public relations of the Oil Industry and Republican puppets.

      The second point is it cannot be done safely. That is a fact. Last year there was a massive oil spill off of Australia using the same "Clean safe" technology that the oil companies wanted to use offshore in the US. The fact is, it would take just one spill to destroy miles of beaches and pollute and contaminate the very seafood we eat. A study of the environment around oil rigs found fish around there with vastly higher levels of heavy metals and the seafloor covered with heavy metals and toxic carcinogens including arsenic. Unfortunately there are some who seem to think it is acceptable to pollute our environment with toxic waste that will kill us in order for oil companies to make some more profit.

      Here again we see the oil company propoganda at work. In the real world unexpected things happen, pipes break. An oil rig can have a drill shaft miles deep, a leak anywhere in that can pollute and contaminate ground water, cause long running leaks into the ocean which can last for months and destroy hundreds of miles of ocean environment and beaches.

      All of this means offshore drilling simply isnt worth the risk. Just one spill and we have ruined the environment, and for nothing at all, it simply will not solve energy problems.

  • shortage?? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stephanruby (542433) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @02:54PM (#31499630)

    'There is already a shortage, because there are companies that already can't get enough material,' said Jim Hedrick

    May be, it's not just a shortage, but a cost of doing business. The real question is: if those companies were willing to pay ten times the amount for those rare earth minerals, would they be able to get them? Probably, I think. Personally, I think this is just another industry that's trying to get the government to subsidize 90% of its infrastructure costs.

  • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @02:58PM (#31499692)

    One thing that does not seem to be talked about much is that all rare earth metals will be completely depleted, in any practically extractable reserves, within the next 50-100 years. The response to the shortage of rare earth metals seen here is similar to a fishing fleet who is pushing the fish population to total extinction through overfishing, doubling the number of fishing boats in order to make up production decline... it only speeds up the extinction process, and that repeatedly we see fishing industries opposing any efforts to allow fish populations to rebound, thus dooming destruction of the very fish population being fished, forever. This is short sighted thinking, it is far easier to carry on business as usual for fisherman even though the species is going extinct, in the short term, in the long term that behaviour leads to a much worse outcome.

    A difference with these metals is they cannot regenerate. Once they are gone, thats it. Still today metals are being used like its an endless supply, and people throw away everything from electronics to batteries which contian precious metals. In the process, we are throwing away our future. Knowing this one realises that with all environmental and resource issues, recycling is not a joke, and the people who have been pushing for it desperately are not "environmental nutjobs", they understand what is really going on and the true ramifications. I find this is true with nearly all environmental issues which are often ignored by the vested interests from pollution which threatens to severely damage our health adn well being to resource depletion.

    The concerns over metal are also existing for oil as well, which is now predicted to peak as soon as 2014, that is a question of when, not if.

    • by maxume (22995) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @03:04PM (#31499798)

      Landfill: A future mine.

    • On the plus side, when stuff gets thrown away it has a tendency to end up in landfills. Once things get unpleasant enough, the landfills will be the most economically viable deposits(of all sorts of useful materials) around.

      For recyclable materials(like most metals), the dangers to long-term supply are those activities which dilute the material in question since, generally speaking, the lower the concentration, the more expensive and destructive the extraction. Incineration is likely bad news. Trying to
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Wyatt Earp (1029)

      In the next 50-100 years?

      http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/rare_earths/mcs-2010-raree.pdf [usgs.gov]
      Consumption in the US
      7,410

      Reserves in the US
      13,000,000

      1754 years worth

      Chinese mining
      120,000

      Chinese reserves
      36,000,000

      300 years worth.

    • One thing that does not seem to be talked about much is that all rare earth metals will be completely depleted, in any practically extractable reserves, within the next 50-100 years.

      The problem with these kinds of projections is that they almost invariably forget to take technological change into account; Malthus predicted that humanity would starve to death because of food shortages in the late 18th Century, whale oil was unsustainable until the discovery of underground oil, and horse shit threatened the

  • easy as pie... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ak_hepcat (468765) <leif@den[ ].net ['ali' in gap]> on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @03:00PM (#31499726) Homepage Journal

    See, first we eat all of their pie, cheaply.

    Then, when they're all out of ingredients to make cheap pie, we open up our fridge and start making
    our own pies.

    Then we can eat our pies, and if they want pies then they'll have to pay a lot more for it. Because we've got the only pie in town.

    • by Chyeld (713439)

      So, we drink their milkshake?

  • Will the 1872 mining law apply? Let the plundering begin. (sarcasm)

  • said Jim Hedrick, a former USGS rare earth specialist who recently retired.

    Wink, wink...

    Well, being born in November 1942 would make you 67 years old now, eligible for proper retirement following your "retirement" from the public spotlight in 1970.

    But come on, how about one final blast of "Star Spangled Banner" with your teeth, Jim... or should I say "Jimi"?

  • by shis-ka-bob (595298) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @03:06PM (#31499828)
    When the Manhattan Project needed rare earths, they turned to Frank Spedding, a chemist at Iowa State. He managed to get the job done with a lot fewer resources that what is being discussed here. I fear that we Americans have become too lazy and in love with a quick return on the buck. Some things are hard work, even if you are really bright. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Spedding [wikipedia.org]. He also created the Ames Laboratory, the one near Offit Air Force Base, not the Ames Research Center near the Navy's Moffitt Field.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by snoop.daub (1093313)

      A bit of a nitpick I guess, but uranium isn't usually considered a rare earth. The transactinides do share some chemistry with them, which is why the Spedding process for uranium purification was used after the war for lanthanides.

      The problem with rare earths is that they are very evenly spread out in the crust, they don't tend to form concentrated ores the way most other metals do. There's actually more lanthanides around than many precious metals, for example, it's a problem of purification.

      I think ther

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @03:43PM (#31500356) Homepage

      Do you have a cite that actually supports your claim? The link you provide describes him a developing a process to refine uranium compounds into purified uranium, not processes to obtain rare earths.
       
      When I follow the links from your linked article it does indeed describe the laboratory he founded as developing processes to process rare earths, but again your claim of using "a lot fewer resources than being discussed here" is not supported.

  • This is exactly why the warfare in the DR Congo is so important to the world. If anyone took a close look at it they'd realize that the modern world is raping that country by any means necessary in order to secure cobalt and other rare minerals. A lot of shady actions being taken by world governments and multi-nationals for control.

  • by night_flyer (453866) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:00PM (#31501340) Homepage

    oil, oil shale, and natural gas that we cant touch thanks to environmentalists and their willing accomplices in the Gov't... what make you think we will be allowed to tap these resources?

  • by TaleSpinner (96034) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @06:14PM (#31502212)

    > the US has its own largely untapped reserves that could safeguard future tech innovation

    Oh, sure, that'll help. With the lunatic left running things we will never manage to open another mine - no matter how crucial the material might be to "future tech". In fact, it's usefulness in future tech is probably proportional to the amount of protest it will create at proposals to mine it.

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