Rare Earth Minerals…
Rare Earth Elements (REE) play a strategic role in our modern technium.
Rare earth elements became known to the world with the discovery of the black mineral “ytterbite” (renamed to gadolinite in 1800) by Lieutenant Carl Axel Arrhenius in 1787, at a quarry in the village of Ytterby, Sweden. — Wikipedia
With worldwide demand for rare-earth metals amounting to 134,000 tons last year, and only 124,000 tons being produced, the difference has had to be made up from dwindling stockpiles. By 2012, demand is expected to reach 180,000 tons, which could exhaust the world’s remaining inventory. The result has been panic throughout industrial countries. — The Economist
China controls 97 per cent of the world’s supply and has been tightening its export quotas, sparking concerns that the rare earths could live up to their name. — New Scientist
A simple timeline:
According to Nikkei, “Vast deposits of rare earth minerals have been discovered on the seabed of the Pacific Ocean amounting to 1,000 times those on land, media reported on Monday citing a study by Japanese researchers.”
Back in October we asked readers if they have “Ever heard of the oxides of Lanthanum, Cerium, Neodymium, Praseodymium and/or Samarium?” We added that “With price surges between 250% and 600% in one quarter, you may wish you have.” As we further predicted, courtesy of Chinese attempts to corner the rare earth space, these oxides were due to explode much further, because as their name implies, these compounds are “rare”, and happen to be mostly contained in one country: that’s right China.
Some Members of Congress have expressed concern over U.S. acquisition of rare earth elements used in various components of defense weapon systems. Rare earths consist of 17 elements on the periodic table, including 15 elements beginning with atomic number 57 (lanthanum) and extending through number 71 (lutetium), as well as two other elements having similar properties (yttrium and scandium). These are referred to as “rare” because although relatively abundant in total quantity, they appear in low concentrations in the earth’s crust and extraction and processing is both difficult and costly.
One problem that major powers face in Africa is that China has developed cosy ties with many resource-rich states, building roads and supplying loans in exchange for minerals that help fuel the Asian power’s hard charging economy.
Countries including Japan, South Korea and Germany may have to offer technology transfer deals in order to better compete with China in the hunt for African rare earths.
For the United States, which relies on rare earths for almost all of its high-tech weaponry, procurement is a matter of national security, with a U.S. Congressional Research Service report advocating a strategic partnership as a hedge against Chinese rare earth hegemony.
Tear down videos are nothing new for smartphones – we’ve seen most of the newer BlackBerry device models get ripped apart to their bits, but have you wondered what actually is inside those bits? The folks at Kidela, a communications company with connections to rare earth miner Stans Energy Corp., produced the above video which gets into some of those details. Check out the video above! In the video they focus on rare earth elements (see wikipedia page) which are the metals actually used in specific components within a BlackBerry.
Rare earth elements — of which there are 17, including the 15 lanthanides plus yttrium and scandium — are needed in many industrial and national security applications, from flat panel displays to jet fighter engines. Yet there are foreseeable stresses on the national and global supply of these materials.
“The United States was once self-reliant in domestically produced [rare earth elements], but over the past 15 years has become 100% reliant on imports, primarily from China,” a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service observes. “The dominance of China as a single or dominant supplier […] is a cause for concern because of Chinas growing internal demand for its [own rare earth elements],” the report said.
Sharply raising the stakes in a dispute over Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing trawler captain, the Chinese government has blocked exports to Japan of a crucial category of minerals used in products like hybrid cars, wind turbines and guided missiles.
This letter formally transmits the enclosed briefing in response to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (Pub. L. No. 111-84), which required GAO to submit a report on rare earth materials in the defense supply chain to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and House of Representatives by April 1, 2010. As required, we provided a copy of this briefing to the committees on April 1, 2010, and subsequently briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee staff on April 5, 2010, and the House Armed Services Committee staff on April 6, 2010.
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 U.S. has its own largely untapped reserves that could safeguard future tech innovation.
Britain and other Western countries risk running out of supplies of certain highly sought-after rare metals that are vital to a host of green technologies, amid growing evidence that China, which has a monopoly on global production, is set to choke off exports of valuable compounds.
Failure to secure alternative long-term sources of rare earth elements (REEs) would affect the manufacturing and development of low-carbon technology, which relies on the unique properties of the 17 metals to mass-produce eco-friendly innovations such as wind turbines and low-energy lightbulbs.
Beijing is drawing up plans to prohibit or restrict exports of rare earth metals that are produced only in China and play a vital role in cutting edge technology, from hybrid cars and catalytic converters, to superconductors, and precision-guided weapons.