Rare Earth and the Economy
Rare Earth is a material that has high magnetic qualities.
There are 17 so called “rare earth” elements. Examples of Rare Earths are: Neodymium and Cerium.
Currently China controls the production of 90% of all rare earths.
If rare earths are used then batteries are stronger, last longer and are more efficient.
Because of this, batteries that are made using rare earths can be smaller than batteries made without them.
Over a territorial dispute of some islands, China stopped the supply of rare earths to Japan in 2010. At that time the cost of rare earths was about $50 a kilo but because of the scarcity of the rare earths on the market, caused by this stop in supply, by the summer of 2011 rare earths had increased in value to $500 a kilo.
China is now, once again supplying Japan.
With the increasing interest in making hybrid and electric cars, the need for more rare earths is rapidly increasing.
Department of Energy
In order to try and reduce the dependence on rare earths, especially with the increase in interest in electric vehicles, the Energy Department, last year introduced the Rare Earth Alternatives in the Critical Technologies program. This program, at a cost of $22 million is investing in 14 promising research projects.
The aim of the program is to find alternatives to rare earth batteries, without having an effect on either their power or efficiency.
Currently there is an alternative to the rare earth battery, it is called the induction motor, however this is not as powerful, small or efficient as the rare earth battery and so is unlikely to appeal to the auto motor industry.
The Energy Department is encouraging both battery makers and the auto industry to work together in trying to find solutions.
The research program though has been given 3 years to come up with solutions. Then after that there will obviously have to be tests and production and so nothing will change in the near future.
Honda is currently working on a system to recycle rare earths but it is not estimated to make a real difference on the growing need.
The United States have stepped up their own mining for these minerals. Companies like Molycorp. Are re-opening and expanding their rare earth open mining site at Mountain Pass, California.
New mines are also opening in Malaysia.
Even with these new mines, the supplies of rare earth with today’s modern technology are in short supply and so the cost of this product could determine many of the prices that we pay for our consumer goods.
- Man Made Earthquakes
A US Geological Survey report is due out. It will state that earthquakes may be caused by drilling activity. How much truth is in the survey? Can we afford the consequences of further drilling?
I have two concerns with this rare earth situation.
Firstly, it can not be a good thing if most of our technology is based on one material, especially if that one material, for the most part is controlled by one country.
Wars have already been fought over oil and some speculate that the Afghanistan wars were already about rare earths: Afghanistan is believed to have the second largest reserves of rare earth, the reserves only being matched by those of China.
The irony is that whilst America and the West were fighting in Afghanistan, for whatever reason, the Chinese stepping in diplomatically, securing Afghanistan mineral mining rights. Could this have been the real reason for the war and why the troops are now pulling out? If so then China won the war without sending in or risking the life of a single soldier.
My second concern is that, as usual when we have the need for something, mining and drilling will take place, with total disregard for the environment. Have studies taken place to determine what effects, if any, the removing of these highly magnetic materials may have on the magnetic field surrounding the planet?
Oil production is now being linked to an increase of earthquake activity, will rare earth mining be found to have a disruptive effect on our planet’s magnetic field?
If so, the results could potentially be more devastating than an earthquake.
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