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Rare Earth Deposit Discovered In US 338

Posted by timothy
from the go-west-young-man dept.
s31523 writes "With China having 97% of the market share of rare earth elements, many countries are nervous about being able to get supplies of key elements needed for high tech gear. Quantum Rare Earths Developments Corp. has reported they have discovered a potential huge source of rare earth elements, right in the middle of the U.S. While the USGS reports that the U.S. has an estimated 13 million metric tonnes available for mining (about 1/3 of China's reserves), finding another regular source is crucial to global stability. The potential yield of the deposit, found in Nebraska, could be the world's largest source for Niobium and other rare earth elements. Could this be the next gold rush?"
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Rare Earth Deposit Discovered In US

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  • by poet (8021) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @02:59PM (#36989070) Homepage

    At stewarding its own resources, preferring instead to buy resources from other countries that do not have the level of regulation we have. We have plenty of oil, gas, rate earth metals etc... we just don't go after it.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:03PM (#36989136)

      At stewarding its own resources, preferring instead to buy resources from other countries that do not have the level of regulation we have. We have plenty of oil, gas, rate earth metals etc... we just don't go after it.

      That sounds like stewarding them well to me. What would be so great about digging up today resources that can be left for tomorrow, given that they can be cost effectively obtained elsewhere for now?

      • by ThorGod (456163) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:09PM (#36989244) Journal

        At stewarding its own resources, preferring instead to buy resources from other countries that do not have the level of regulation we have. We have plenty of oil, gas, rate earth metals etc... we just don't go after it.

        That sounds like stewarding them well to me. What would be so great about digging up today resources that can be left for tomorrow, given that they can be cost effectively obtained elsewhere for now?

        Bingo! Leaving it in the ground (or, better, undiscovered) until later represents future income. Dollar saved, dollar earned, and all that.

        • by Targon (17348) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:43PM (#36989760)

          More like dollar saved, 2,000 earned since as global supplies go down, the value goes up.

      • by Dan East (318230)

        Mod parent up. The best possible stewardship of a NON-RENEWABLE resource is to not consume it at all.

        • by icebike (68054)

          Um, not using a resource makes it not a resource.

          Holding out till the market is desperate and prices are so high you have no hope of intelligent management of the scarce resource hasn't always worked out the way people expect either.

          • by PRMan (959735)
            It does when you are the most powerful nation on earth...
          • by jeffmeden (135043)

            Um, not using a resource makes it not a resource.

            Holding out till the market is desperate and prices are so high you have no hope of intelligent management of the scarce resource hasn't always worked out the way people expect either.

            It may be unexpected to the countries choosing to rapidly exploit their resources (be they rare earth metals, oil, gas, uranium ore, military might, or comfortable beaches) that once they are out of their resource they face a world that is at once no longer willing to send them money and eager to charge a hefty premium for said resource... But it won't be unexpected for us*!

            *for certain values of us

        • by JSBiff (87824)

          I would think the best stewardship is to try to ensure it's put to the best possible uses (and recycled, if possible)?

          I mean, I believe REEs are important for things like medical equipment, and I believe some chemical processes used to create pharmaceutical drugs, which help increase people's health.

          Would it be better stewardship to NOT USE the resource at all, or to use it for something important like medicine?

        • by ArcherB (796902)

          Mod parent up. The best possible stewardship of a NON-RENEWABLE resource is to not consume it at all.

          Says the guy using a computer that depends on the very same resources he's saying WE shouldn't consume.

          Bravo!

      • I'd rather buy oil from the middle east for now. Let them drive gold plated Bentleys and build indoor ski resorts. In a couple of generations, when it's really important, they'll be back in tents and we'll still have energy resources.
      • by joebok (457904)

        I'm not sure that is "good stewardship". It is certainly economically efficient. I would say it isn't good stewardship in that "stewardship" usually has a positive connotation of balancing economic value with environmental value. Paying other countries (with less regulation) to dig up their minerals (and presumably doing damage to their environment) isn't, in my opinion, "stewardship" at all.

    • by Ogive17 (691899)
      Yeah, we buy everyone else's raw materials while they are cheap. When those start to go scarce or the price goes up, we tap into our own resources.

      Part of it is strategy, part of it is economics.
    • by AvitarX (172628)

      We get most of our gas (90%) and coal (we are an exporter) locally. The US does not have plenty of oil, nowhere does really, and the rare-earth discovery is in fact new, but with a huge land area, and a few different types of geology in the country it shouldn't be shocking that it was found.

    • by punker (320575)

      This is not worth going after, because the ore grades are too low to pull out in an economically viable way. This is a common problem in mining for precious metals and rare earths. For a find to be viable, you need a higher material density or a second valuable mineral (iron, copper, phosphate, etc).

      Also, regarding the regulations, those are probably good. Many chemicals used in mining are pretty nasty (arsenic for example). Keeping them controlled is just part of the price the public puts on anyone who wan

    • Pray tell, where is that abundance of oil? Distributed over the all those stripper wells putting out a couple of barrels a day?
    • by blair1q (305137)

      That used to be exactly the reverse. One of our greatest strengths was our lack of reliance on others for natural resources, and our ability to sell them.

      Of course, that was back before a few corporations owned them all...

    • by rcamans (252182)

      Finding other sources of rare earths has never been a problem. We know plenty of good mine locations everywhere. The problem is the separation process for the individual rare earths, which is very poisonously polluting. China is currently the only place which is unconcerned about the pollution poisoning the environment and citizens.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    that the US has no shortage of rare earth deposits...we have shortage of rare earth refining....

    • by DCFusor (1763438)
      Mod parent up. Factual.
    • by JBMcB (73720)

      +1. Even with the spike in rare earth prices recently, it's still cheaper to get it from China than to source it locally.

      • No, it is not. The fact is, that if we pulled ore from china vs. from here, it would be cheaper here. California pass is starting up because of this. Our problem is that refining was shut down here because reagan pushed us to GIVE the tech to China. Now China has dumped on the market and destroyed our refining capability (well, that as California environmental nuts). But, the refining is coming.
  • next gold rush? nah the land, or at least the mineral rights will be bought by corporate interests who will make a ton of money and you won't see any individuals making it big off the rare metals, unless they happened to own the land and the mineral rights to it.
    • by inviolet (797804)

      next gold rush? nah the land, or at least the mineral rights will be bought by corporate interests who will make a ton of money and you won't see any individuals making it big off the rare metals, unless they happened to own the land and the mineral rights to it.

      It is not important who takes the risk, who holds the paper, who makes the money, off this deposit. Handing the title over to John Q. Public will not produce a better or worse outcome than signing it over to Alcoa. They will both seek maximum profit vis-a-vis the market's price.

      What is important, is that this deposit is geographically located within our borders. That means that although the price will still follow the market, it will not be practical for the mine's output to be blockaded by Beijing if w

    • Re:next gold rush? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:12PM (#36989286)

      There is a very good reason for this. Rare earths aren't really that rare. What makes them "rare" (or I should say scarce) is how difficult it is to process them into their raw oxide. This is not an easy process. You can't just dig them out of the ground and sell the dirt to a laser making company.

      So the next company that will be coming online is the Australian Lynas Corp with their processing plant in Malaysia and the worlds largest single rare earth deposit in Western Australia. The Malaysian processing plant is costing a lot of money to build - not the sort of capital an individual has.

      Check this out:

      http://www.lynascorp.com/page.asp?category_id=1&page_id=25

      That gives you an idea of how rare earths have outpaced gold in the last 2 years.

      Next I believe is USA's Molycorp (I may be wrong on that but I think that is right).

      • by JSBiff (87824)

        Is it really so hard to make clickable links [lynascorp.com]?

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        The Fear of a Toxic Rerun
        http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/30/business/global/30rare.html?pagewanted=all [nytimes.com]

        A $230 million refinery being built here in an effort to break China's global chokehold on rare earth metals is plagued by environmentally hazardous construction and design problems, according to internal memos and current and former engineers on the project.
        ...
        But the construction and design may have serious flaws, according to the engineers, who also provided memos, e-mail messages and photos from Lynas and its contractors. The engineers said they felt a professional duty to voice their safety concerns, but insisted on anonymity to avoid the risk of becoming industry outcasts.

        TFA goes into detail about all the problems that have been discovered and some of the corners that have been cut.
        I sure as hell wouldn't want the future superfund site that's described in TFA to be in my State.

        • Re:next gold rush? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Savantissimo (893682) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @09:15PM (#36993008) Journal

          These are not minor problems - they are building a plant that handles 90C slightly-radioactive acid-abrasive slurry on a reclaimed swamp out of regular concrete, with no moisture barrier between the ground and the concrete, with cracks and voids in the walls of the already inadequate concrete, and connecting these tanks with pipes made out of regular non-corrosion resistant steel. The moisture from the ground is going to crumble the concrete, the slurry is going to eat through the pipes, and then go right into the ground. Not good.

    • Correct. And this article is old news. Quantum announced their acquisition of the rights in this general area a bit over a year ago. Development of the resource will be tricky; for example, disposing of tailings from mining and milling so that neither surface nor ground water is contaminated will be a challenge.
    • Re:next gold rush? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by eepok (545733) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:58PM (#36989970) Homepage

      The "rush" isn't in the resources itself, but the stocks of the company. If you do a GoogleNews search for "rare earth" and "nebraska", you'll find that them majority of the reports are through "market" sources. It's hype so that day traders will invest thus allowing original investors to sell at higher prices, get out, and watch it deflate because they all know that rare-earth mining and smelting is such a dirty business that the EPA won't allow it.

  • We knew this... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Local ID10T (790134) <ID10T.L.USER@gmail.com> on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:02PM (#36989120) Homepage

    We already knew that the USA had large deposits of rare earth elements.

    It is just cheaper to buy them from China than to mine and process what is available domestically.

    • Re:We knew this... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Sir_Sri (199544) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:43PM (#36989768)

      ya, rare earths are well... not rare. Some of them are rare in specific cases, but generally they aren't.

      One can argue about the need for a certain production capacity being outside of china, simply because, but that is more of a security cost than anything else. and paying people to extract stuff from the ground that there isn't a market for (since demand is already met by china) is just going to waste a pile of money, whether that is worth it is another matter.

      Since demand for rare earths is increasing there's a legitimate business interest in expanding production, but they would probably go with india or brazil rather than US production.

  • After the last James Bond movie I'm slightly worried about any company called "Quantum" having control over a lot of resources in a specific area. I do have to say getting a monopoly on niobium is a lot more Bond-villainy than trying to charge a higher price for water in a poor South American country (seriously, lamest Bond villain scheme everrrr.)

    More substantially, I'm not completely sure this sort of discover is a good thing in the long term. We need to get better at making advanced electronics withou

  • So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by black soap (2201626) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:06PM (#36989174)
    Can we refine them here and export the waste to China for 'disposal,' or do we only get to ignore the environmental problem if they produce the waste themselves?
  • day goes by where slashdot isnt comparing something to china.

    • day goes by where slashdot isnt comparing something to china.

      Makes a nice alternative to Hitler and Nazis.

    • by smelch (1988698)
      My god, it's almost as if the economis of the US and China are globally important, intertwined and affecting all of us every day.
    • by hubie (108345)
      I want to know how many cell phones this rare earth deposit is equivalent to.
  • nil chance (Score:4, Interesting)

    by waddgodd (34934) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:06PM (#36989190) Homepage Journal

    The last US Rare Earth mine closed because it was an ecological nightmare to smelt the ore, not because it ran out. Since this is a new vein and not a new smelting process, it'll be doomed to failure the exact same way, so will the (relatively) new vein in Idaho. Short of the EPA rolling over on a mine that will be a superfund site within months of opening in a Democratic administration (anyone want to figure the odds of that?), this mine will be a non-starter.

    • Re:nil chance (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:33PM (#36989642)

      You should tell that to these guys http://www.molycorp.com/ [molycorp.com]

      They just reopened a rare earth mine in CA. Quick, go tell them they can't do what they've already done! Molycorp developed a way to extract the minerals without the pollution. Pretty smart considering pollution needs to be cleaned up and that clean up costs a ton of money. But don't let long term cost savings get in the way of your hippy hate. And no, I'm not a hippy, but I see the value in reducing costs by eliminating or reducing clean up. China will one day have to clean up the waste and it's going to cost a pretty penny. They love it now, but that debt will come due. Molycorp following EPA guidelines should reduce the total tally we owe.

      • Re:nil chance (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Lehk228 (705449) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @06:21PM (#36991638) Journal
        the republican option of reducing costs by ignoring pollution and allowing the corporate shell to go bankrupt from fines after shareholders have gotten their money is more efficient, as long as you are a shareholder and don't live nearby

        if you really want to unfuck the country repeal the concept of limited liability to shareholders, if a business goes under and still owes, take it out of the hides of everyone who has gotten a dividend or capital gain from owning shares of that company. suddenly actual corporate responsibility, instead of talking a lot of bullshit, will be important
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098)

      Considering that Tea Party Republicans want to defund the EPA, there's a non-zero chance of this actually happening. We can then find out first-hand the costs that China is paying for being the world's foremost exporter of rare earth ore.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Haha.

      No.

      No mine in America ever went out of business because of the ecology. They may have blamed that, to avoid a malfeasance suit from their shareholders, but it certainly wasn't true.

  • by fruitbane (454488) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:08PM (#36989220) Homepage

    Most rare earth minerals are actually not that valuable. They're necessary and quite abundant. The reason China controls the trade is that they have been willing thus far to run operations which mine at great cost for minimal profit. They've been buying operations in Africa and on other continents where large stores are found. In order for a US company to want to mine these minerals there will have to be a critical uptick in price, and that will raise prices on a number of important manufactured goods.

    • The price is definitely the issue, but I don't know if the low price is because rare earth minerals aren't valuable. From what I've heard (couldn't find any solid documentation, just plenty of 'business as usual' references), most of the mining is done via slave labor or close to it, whether it's in China or Africa.. It'll be pretty hard to set up mining operations in the US that can compete with slave labor.
    • Well they are comparatively rare. If you look at something like iron a 13 million ton deposit is basically nothing. There is an iron mine up in northern Minnesota [ironrange.org] that claims they have mined over 800 million tons of iron ore from just the one mine. There are a number of other mines up in the iron range all of which I believe have produced more than 13 millions tons each.

      As a side note if you are in Minnesota it is worth the trip up to the iron range, especially if you have a son who likes big machines. the

  • Nebraska (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hatta (162192) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:08PM (#36989230) Journal

    This is good news for Nebraska. The western side of the state is very sparsely populated, and getting more so as kids leave small towns for the city. More than half the state's population live in the two cities of Omaha and Lincoln. Getting development and jobs out there will help keep small town life alive for longer.

    The troubling part is that western Nebraska is over the Ogallala aquifer that supplies water to much of the plains states. I shudder to think what would happen if it got contaminated with rare-earths.

    • I'm not a geologist, but I live in KC. That aquifer has been a scare for a while now, but the water supply seems to have stabilized lately. I've talked to a few friends with family way back West and they're parents don't seem to be concerned about the same armageddon of diminished water supply they were 10 years ago. For a while there, people were discussing migrating to a whole new economy in the West (like buffalo safaris and wild game hunting preserves).

    • by PRMan (959735)

      More than half the state's population live in the two cities of Omaha and Lincoln.

      So that other article was right. IQs are rising.

      • Any evening there is a UNL Cornhuskers football game and all the yayhoos come to the big city, you can literally feel the average IQ of Lincoln drop several points. :)

        Crazy to see another story about Nebraska on Slashdot, I think that's 5 since I've been here.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        The dumb ones were moving to Texas, and raising the IQ in both states.

    • Re:Nebraska (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:29PM (#36989588) Homepage

      The troubling part is that western Nebraska is over the Ogallala aquifer that supplies water to much of the plains states. I shudder to think what would happen if it got contaminated with rare-earths.

      I doubt you mean the rare earth materials themselves. It's the purification process that creates most of the nasties.

      Interesting short piece [raremetalblog.com] about mining and purification of rare earths. Summary: Mining and primary concentration need to happen on site for economic reasons. However, it's the secondary purification steps that have most of the nasties. After it's been refined to a level of around 50% purity then it's economically viable to transport that material reasonably long distances for final smelting.

      Thus, one could have a single rare earth refining plant, closely monitored and supported by numerous mines. If done correctly, that might mitigate a significant part of the environmental concerns. (If I'm reading the article correctly).

    • I don't think increasing the population of western Nebraska would be a good thing; a lot of people live out there because they like small towns and don't want to see them change. And for that matter, maybe it's a good thing to still have sparsely populated areas in the Midwest.
    • by joelsanda (619660)

      This is good news for Nebraska. The western side of the state is very sparsely populated, and getting more so as kids leave small towns for the city. More than half the state's population live in the two cities of Omaha and Lincoln. Getting development and jobs out there will help keep small town life alive for longer.

      The troubling part is that western Nebraska is over the Ogallala aquifer that supplies water to much of the plains states. I shudder to think what would happen if it got contaminated with rare-earths.

      I wonder how long those small towns will remain small if there is a new resource extraction industry that pops up? Seems to me that often means a new six-lane road filled with chain fast food joints, unfortunately.

  • by subreality (157447) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:09PM (#36989248)

    Er, no. Rare earths aren't actually that rare. The reason we get them from China isn't because they have a monopoly on the source. They just have the cheapest labor to dig them out of the ground.

  • Not that rare (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:10PM (#36989256) Homepage

    "Rare earths" aren't that rare. They're just at low concentrations, which makes for an inefficient mining operation. Getting rid of the waste products is a big problem. Molycorp [envisionreports.com] has re-opened a rare earth mine in California, and is expanding capacity.

    There are other rare earth mines in the US. [popsci.com] There's no shortage of places to mine. It's just that, until recently, it wasn't profitable.

  • by Kohath (38547) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:13PM (#36989296)

    So what if there are minerals? We have lots of natural mineral and petroleum and other fossil fuel resources all over the US. Every time anyone wants to mine or drill for them, the environmentalists step in a file lawsuits to stop or delay the mining or drilling.

    In southern California, environmentalists are trying to stop solar power stations out in the desert by suing to prevent the power lines that would carry the electricity to where people live.

    So there's a solution to the rare earths problem. What difference does it make if we won't be allowed to use it?

    • by artor3 (1344997) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:25PM (#36989502)

      You've been brainwashed by professional liars. The United States does not have "lots of petroleum". We do have lots of coal, and we dig it up at a rate of over a billion tons per year. We have lots of natural gas, and we mine it at a rate of tens of trillions of cubic feet per year.

      The people you listen to are paid big bucks to keep you outraged and misinformed. Stop listening to them.

    • Have you every asked "why"? It's not just because those dirty looking miners are boogey men. Usually has something to do with the techniques employed and the effects on the human population (like the use of arsenic in gold mining). Yes, we have practical needs, but don't outright dismiss the concerns of "environmentalists" unless you understand the issue.

  • Yeah, yeah! I heard about it. It is called Unobtainium right?
  • by ThorGod (456163) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:16PM (#36989354) Journal

    "finding another regular source is crucial to global stability"

    Ha! It's in the US, it's good for US stability! Sheesh, like the primary concern of the US is strictly the world at large. I'm a liberal and a citizen of the world (as much as anyone else), but let's be honest here.

    The US is rich in natural resources. Yes, the jobs may go overseas - but our mineral deposits, forests, fisheries, energy resources (coal, to name 1), and all the other things I'm forgetting to mention - will stay here. (Assuming we don't let our international trade policy to become lopsided against our general well being.)

    • It is good for global stability, if the US doesn't have its own energy supply, somebody will be accused of stockpiling WMDs...

  • I'm betting it's Chile and its Atacama Desert that comes to the rescue.

  • Quick, everyone! Some country has a rare metal we can harvest. Grab a gun and let's invade.
  • Nobium is not a rare earth element [wikipedia.org]. It is however a part of coltan, which is a sought after mineral that is mined in congo and a major cause of civil war in that region.

  • China tries to put on the squeeze, prices go up, people get an incentive to start looking, and here we are. Stories like this show why scarcity is so often a myth.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @03:30PM (#36989600)
    The were either not developed or closed because they were more costly than offshore. But that is changing.
  • by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday August 04, 2011 @07:46PM (#36992420) Journal
    You scream about environmentalist and say that we will not mine rare earth. Yet, California pass re-starts later this year. Likewise, they will be doing the refining HERE, and producing magnets in USA. So, california pass's re-start shoots down the BS about not having any. In addition, other nations have plenty of mining and that includes Canada and many nations in EU. How clean are their operations? Clean.

    The problem is NOT environmentalist. It is business execs that want to have the lowest cost by producing goods in a similar fashion as China. It is not going to happen. Yet companies make loads of money by simply putting up a clean operation right from the gitgo.

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