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    Rare Good News

    Rare Good News

    I have posted multiple times before about how worldwide “green” technology and a variety of high tech industries were dependent on “rare earth minerals” mined almost exclusively in China.  U.S. production was shut down almost a decade ago over environmental concerns.  Among other things, the Chinese had used this dominance to exert political pressure on Japan and others.

    Now some rare, good news.  The U.S. mine which has been shut down over environmental concerns is reopening:

    A major U.S. mine for rare earth metals has gone back into operation, adding a much needed source to offset China’s control of the unique group of materials necessary to build tech gadgets like smart phones and laptops.

    Colorado-based Molycorp resumed active mining of the rare earth metal facility at Mountain Pass, California last week. The site had been shutdown in 2002 amid environmental concerns and the low costs for rare earth metals provided by mining operations based in China….

    Molycorp, the owner of the Mountain Pass mine, is seeking to free the U.S. from it’s dependence on China for rare earth metals. By the end of 2012, the company is aiming to produce 20,000 tons of rare earths, likely enough to start meeting U.S. demand. Molycorp also plans on breaking ground to the construction of a new rare earths manufacturing facility at the site next month.

    China, on the other hand, produced about 124,000 tons of rare earths in 2009, according to analysts reports. The country is also the biggest manufacturer of products that use the metals.

    While the reopening of the mine certainly is good news, it’s hard to know if it solves the problem because, as reported by The Guardian, worldwide demand for rare earth minerals is expected to double in the coming decade. 

    Since so much of our “green” technology actually is manufactured abroad, fulfilling domestic demand is good for the military and domestic high tech industries, but I’m not sure it addresses the issue of dependence on China for technologies which supposedly will help lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

    Nonetheless, this is good news.  Which is rare these days.

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    If we can ever get into space in a big way, this problem will be solved (there are really stupid amounts of rare earths, and everything else really, in metallic asteroids). Until then, it's still going to be a problem; the majority of Earth's rare earths are in the core, because they're heavier than the other elements, and the amount on the surface is just not enough to hold an industrial civilization for a particularly long time.

    dad29 is correct. Without the manufacturing facility, the mine doesn't do much. That will take some time to be helpful.

    Rare earths are used in nuclear fuel (the price spiked as soon as the Chinese stopped the first shipment to Japan) and all those fancy hybrid and electric car batteries that we subsidize in Michigan as well.

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