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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