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Searching For Alternatives To China's Rare Earth Monopoly

Soulskill posted about 4 years ago | from the do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-200-kg-of-ytterbium dept.

Businesses 199

KantIsDead writes "MIT's Technology Review adds to the ongoing discussion of China's monopoly on rare earth metals, an issue that was temporarily catapulted to national attention during China's rare earth embargo of Japan. The current article focuses on the search for alternatives to rare earth metals that would undercut China's monopoly and allow nations to develop their industry without fearing the hand of a Chinese embargo. From the article: 'In the US, the Chinese dominance of rare-earth mineral production has prompted a surge of funding focused on developing permanent magnets that use less, if any, rare-earth materials, such as nearly $7 million from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E). In one of these projects, University of Nebraska researchers are working to enhance permanent magnets made with an alloy iron and cobalt, or FeCo. This class of materials is sold today, but delivers half or less of the power of the best rare-earth-based magnets. The Nebraska researchers will focus on ways to dope the structural matrix of these alloys with traces of other elements, thereby rearranging their molecular geometry to create stronger, more durable permanent magnetic materials.'"

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first piss (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913088)

on you.

For details click here [tinyurl.com]

Looking elsewhere... (1)

lionchild (581331) | about 4 years ago | (#33913104)

I suspect there will be folks who open up new markets for rare earths. I believe there are a number of resources that are yet undeveloped on the African continent. Likely the replacement for Conflict Diamonds...Conflict Earths. (Sounds sorta like a scifi novel title, huh?)

Re:Looking elsewhere... (4, Insightful)

lul_wat (1623489) | about 4 years ago | (#33913124)

Considering all the investment China is putting into Africa at the moment they are probably one step ahead in that department...

Re:Looking elsewhere... (3, Interesting)

lionchild (581331) | about 4 years ago | (#33913308)

Unlike Conflict Diamonds, it's really hard to trace where the Conflict Rare Earths come from. So, if they get funneled through China, it's very difficult to say where it orginally came from. :-(

Re:Looking elsewhere... (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 4 years ago | (#33914324)

Unlike Conflict Diamonds, it's really hard to trace where the Conflict Rare Earths come from.

Blood diamonds may not be all they are cracked up to be. [wsj.com]

Besides, the conditions under which many "conflict-free" diamonds are mined ought to be enough to take the lustre off the stone too.

Re:Looking elsewhere... (1)

treeves (963993) | about 4 years ago | (#33913914)

Yeah, I was surprised to hear that Chinese companies are doing all the road-building projects in Ethiopia now. When I was there just a couple years ago, it was Europeans.

Re:Looking elsewhere... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913146)

Or in the U.S. or Australia

Re:Looking elsewhere... (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | about 4 years ago | (#33913282)

What aboot Canada, eh? Canada is freakin' huge, and there were a metric fuckton of diamonds discovered in the middle of frozen nowhere north of Yellow Knife. There have to be a lot of minerals undiscovered in all that frozen wasteland.

Re:Looking elsewhere... (3, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | about 4 years ago | (#33913416)

We're already working on it. There's a rare earths mine currently getting started up near Lake Thor in the northwest territories.

Re:Looking elsewhere... (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | about 4 years ago | (#33914246)

Lake Thor in the northwest territories.

Lake Thor? in the northwest territories eh? Hope you sacrificed a few virgins and preformed the correct rituals before breaking ground because the place sounds cursed if you ask me...

Let me know if you find any old looking hammers laying around, maybe an ebay auction or something...

Re:Looking elsewhere... (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 4 years ago | (#33913450)

Ssh. Don't tell anyone.

Re:Looking elsewhere... (1)

zill (1690130) | about 4 years ago | (#33913434)

Or in the U.S.

Precisely. U.S. was the the global leader in rare earth metals production in the late 1980s.

Re:Looking elsewhere... (3, Insightful)

ae1294 (1547521) | about 4 years ago | (#33914276)

Precisely. U.S. was the the global leader in rare earth metals production in the late 1980s.

Hey we moved on.. now we export nice clean things like Hollywood movies and heavy metal eh music... Digging in the dirt is so hard on the nails and only Mexicans wanna do that sort of work.

Re:Looking elsewhere... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913476)

I believe there are a number of resources that are yet undeveloped on the African continent.

There are huge deposits in Texas around the Llano area, but it would be a shame to mine for them (hard to extract them without destroying the beauty of the environment around there). It would probably benefit Africa to mine there first, since they are in far greater need of economic development than Texas.

Re:Looking elsewhere... (4, Interesting)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | about 4 years ago | (#33913628)

Not to mention that there is a lot of potential ability to recycle Rare Earth metals from electronics yet for whatever reason we keep shipping them off to China to be disassembled.

If you don't want China to have all the Rare Earth Metals... STOP GIVING IT BACK TO THEM.

Re:Looking elsewhere... (2, Interesting)

SEWilco (27983) | about 4 years ago | (#33913668)

Is an asteroid "elsewhere" enough for you? Most metallic asteroids probably have more metals than we have access to in the Earth's crust. We have ways of cutting up large metal objects, but I don't know if there are industrial processes for separating random mixtures of metallic elements. An asteroid which had melted and partially separated the metals would be an interesting challenge.

Re:Looking elsewhere... (2, Interesting)

RsG (809189) | about 4 years ago | (#33913956)

Sure, but getting to and from is a bitch. And moving them into Earth orbit is the sort of thing you only screw up once. I'm all for mining the belt, but we need substantially better tech for both ground to orbit and in-system flight. Mind you, in the long run setting up such infrastructure is worthwhile for non-commercial reasons, so we really ought to be investing more in it on general principles.

Re:Looking elsewhere... (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | about 4 years ago | (#33914340)

Can never ever happen, I can't even get on a plane to fly to the next state over without an anal probe do you really think they are going to let terrorist fly to an asteroid? What if Al-Qaeda(tm) smashes it into east Texas? { discuss }

Re:Looking elsewhere... (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 4 years ago | (#33914434)

... and enough energy.

Re:Looking elsewhere... (1)

General Wesc (59919) | about 4 years ago | (#33913716)

See also: DR Congo.

Someone had to say it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913118)

Do magnets made of FeCo material smell bad?

Re:Someone had to say it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913256)

No; you're thinking of the ones that use carbon and aluminum in place of cobalt.

Re:Someone had to say it... (3, Funny)

biryokumaru (822262) | about 4 years ago | (#33913258)

No, no one had to say that.

Onwee if you speak wike dis (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913836)

Den you misspewud feco mateeweoh.

China is just the cheapest producer like Saudi (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913122)

There are lots of rare earths in other countries. China is just the cheapest place to extract it. If the price goes up then other deposits will be able to be brought online economically.

Re:China is just the cheapest producer like Saudi (1, Informative)

TheEyes (1686556) | about 4 years ago | (#33913230)

The problem is that there aren't any other rare earth mines around, and they take a while to dig and bring online--ten years, from what I've read.

Consider having to go without new hard drives for ten years, and you know why people are suddenly becoming nervous about China suddenly deciding to embargo Japan.

Re:China is just the cheapest producer like Saudi (1)

Ironsides (739422) | about 4 years ago | (#33913300)

Consider it is still possible to recycle/reuse the rare earths from the existing equipment when it wears out. Recycling exists you know.

Re:China is just the cheapest producer like Saudi (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 4 years ago | (#33914442)

Recycling exists you know.

He's from the US :(

Re:China is just the cheapest producer like Saudi (2, Informative)

zill (1690130) | about 4 years ago | (#33913454)

The problem is that there aren't any other rare earth mines around

United states had a monopoly in rare earth metals back in the 80's. I'm pretty sure those mines can be re-activated on a short notice.

Re:China is just the cheapest producer like Saudi (2, Interesting)

L3370 (1421413) | about 4 years ago | (#33913920)

They can.

If we did, china would let it go on for a year or two, then wait till all the investors dump huge loads of cash into the business to expand and streamline. After fortunes are invested, China will stop any existing embargos and then triple their rare earth mining output just to slam all the competitors into the ground. If they do it right, they'd probably traumatize their competitors so terribly that no one would think of mining rare earth minerals for another 30 years.

China corners the market because mining rare earth minerals creates environmental issues...and they are willing to puke all over their own land. Western nations have to deal with environmental laws, and that drives up cost.

Re:China is just the cheapest producer like Saudi (4, Interesting)

compro01 (777531) | about 4 years ago | (#33913480)

Bullshit. There's a pair of big rare earth mines in California that will be up and running by the middle of next year. One of them (Mountain Pass) used to provide the vast majority of the world's rare earths before China came on the scene and priced them out of the market.

There is no possibility of a long term shortage.

Wrong (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 4 years ago | (#33914640)

Re-starting mining is only 1-2 years of work. Starting a new mine may be 3-4 years depending on how big of an operation. CA is Re-opening Mountain Pass Mine, which was the largest mine at one time (and remains high in ore). In addition, it appears that mines in the west are going to be started. In particular, over in North West Colorado, by Rifle, Colorado.

The item that takes time AND MONEY, is the PROCESSING of the ores. That is what the feds should have backed Congressman's bill to spend upwards of 1 billion to re-start the processing. Sadly, W overrode DOD's objections and allowed China to take Magnequench. If not for that, we would still have processing here.

Re:China is just the cheapest producer like Saudi (1)

FooAtWFU (699187) | about 4 years ago | (#33913240)

Nasty for your business if it happens all of a sudden, though, and it takes a couple years before the alternative supplies are actually ready.

This is risk mitigation.

Actually, no (2, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | about 4 years ago | (#33914602)

There are 2 very distinct issues.
  1. China DOES have the largest amount of currently cheaply available REE. BUT, they are not the only ones. However, they have ran around for the last 15 years trying to buy up mines, or put them out of business by ignoring the environmental issues, subsidizing the prices, and then dumping on the market. Right now, they have the vast majority of working mines.
  2. China has the ONLY processing of REE. America had it with Magnaquench, but a bunch of neo-cons served as a front for China, bought it up, and then got W to override the DOD's object to the move of them company to CHina. And again, this WAS being subsidized, dumped, environmental regs ignored, etc by China.

So, where does this leave the world now? Well, China mines the majority of the ore, and processes all of it. In addition, they will only process it if THEY buy it. Basically, we have China able to stop exports and screw the world. And we saw that with Japan.

The best thing that the west can do, is re-start the processing of REE as quickly as possible. The smart thing is for the west to restart this in two or more different nations. That way, when China decides to move their cold war up the ladder, then we are still guaranteed production. In addition, it can keep prices down.

What about (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | about 4 years ago | (#33913156)

I only wonder what lays yet undiscovered in the Antarctic, there is no telling what sort of things can be found there. Though I think treaty prevents any sort of commercial ventures.Though that's just so the Military can establish their secret base there.

Re:What about (2, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 4 years ago | (#33913182)

Apart from the fact that treaties pretty much bar any wide-scale development or extraction, simply put, it's damned cold down there, and even the limited amount of activity down there costs an exorbitant amount of money. Rare earth minerals would have to get really damned expensive before anyone would seriously consider it.

Re:What about (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 4 years ago | (#33914536)

Here in Sweden a lot of mining is done in Kiruna:
City(?):
http://www.strangeharvest.com/mt/archive/kiruna3.jpg [strangeharvest.com]
http://www.mynewsdesk.com/files/e1ec5f78a79c345d4a3fcf3c86177f0f/resources/ResourceWebImage/thumbnails/flygbild_kiruna_november_2007_large.jpg?1238409989 [mynewsdesk.com]

They are even moving the whole city afaik because they have mined so much underneath it or if it's that they want to mine underneath it so it has to be moved.

The ice hotel (Jukkasjärvi):
http://www.qedata.se/bilder/gallerier/ishotellet/ishotell-ingang-natt.jpg [qedata.se]
http://www.qedata.se/bilder/gallerier/ishotellet/ishotell-rum-japan.jpg [qedata.se]
http://www.qedata.se/bilder/gallerier/ishotellet/ishotell-ingang2-natt.jpg [qedata.se]
http://www.qedata.se/bilder/gallerier/ishotellet/ishotell-ute-hjerta.jpg [qedata.se]
http://www.kirunabuss.se/taxibestallning-ishotellet/282FCFC53F4D46B483E98F34D627F045 [kirunabuss.se]
http://fjellfotografen.se/albums/uta/sverige/lappland/Miniatyr_Iskyrka%20och%20Ishotell,%20Jukkasj%E4rvi%20%A9%20uta-bg1044.jpg [fjellfotografen.se]
http://cache.virtualtourist.com/1323606-A_reindeer_fur_covered_bed_in_the_Ice_Hotel-Kiruna.jpg [virtualtourist.com]

Aurora:
http://www.ltu.se/polopoly_fs/1.36982!terassen_kiruna_aurora.jpg [www.ltu.se]
http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/autopia/images/2008/04/24/kiruna.jpg [wired.com]

http://www.wintercities.kiruna.se/nytt/kiruna6.gif [kiruna.se]

Kiruna on a map: http://homepage.swissonline.ch/Christener/Kiruna/Bilder/Kiruna.jpg [swissonline.ch]

Esrange space center [www.ssc.se] is close by to.

Kiruna location: 675118N, 201331O
Alaska: 5440'N - 7150'N, 130W - 173E

I don't know how much the gulf stream (eventually quite a bit?) help but if people can mine there I assume they can mine in Alaska to, why shouldn't they be able to? Heck I live in Örebro at around the same latitude as Stockholm and the location of this city is 5916N 1513O, so even that is more north than the southern parts of Alaska.

Arctic circle:
World: http://www.athropolis.com/map2.htm [athropolis.com]
Alaska: http://www.studentsoftheworld.info/sites/country/img/15000_AlaskaMap.jpg [studentsoftheworld.info]

Re:What about (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913222)

I only wonder what lays yet undiscovered in the Antarctic, there is no telling what sort of things can be found there. Though I think treaty prevents any sort of commercial ventures.Though that's just so the Military can establish their secret base there.

The Military just wants you to believe that. They're too embarrassed to admit the penguins keep kicking their asses, so they make up stories like that to throw you off.

Those penguins are deceptively cunning war strategists, it turns out.

Re:What about (2, Funny)

oatworm (969674) | about 4 years ago | (#33913576)

It's true. I saw this documentary on Nickelodeon called Penguins of Madagascar [nick.com] and, man, they looked tough! We're talking crazy commando skills, unwavering loyalty, the ability to talk to zoo animals... it was chilling!

Re:What about (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | about 4 years ago | (#33913782)

That's because their Colonel's are brilliant. And modular.

Re:What about (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 4 years ago | (#33913498)

I think it's a safe bet that if Antarctica had it in sufficient quantity such that it would be economically feasible to obtain it, many countries would not really give a rats ass about the treaty and it would only be fear of repercussions that would stop them from carrying out any operations there that would violate it. The problem is that some nations are powerful enough that such fear would probably not be of concern to them... so I'm really rather leaning towards hoping that Antarctica doesn't have very much there that is useful.

Re:What about (1)

corbettw (214229) | about 4 years ago | (#33913838)

Treaties are only valuable as long as the cost of violating them is greater than the cost of abiding by them. In other words, if large deposits of rich mineral deposits were discovered in Antarctica, it would be far more profitable to forget about the treaties and one could then expect a land rush as nations colonize it and began cutting up the landscape.

Re:What about the Great White South? (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 4 years ago | (#33913954)

Also, the limitations are there on commercial usage. Not on scientific research.

Like the continual scientific research on tasty, tasty whale meat and whale oil that Japan and Russia do.

Everything is about the cost of opportunity. Just ask Jack Sparrow - or the US Navy.

Re:What about (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | about 4 years ago | (#33914410)

I only wonder what lays yet undiscovered in the Antarctic, there is no telling what sort of things can be found there.

Geologist William Dyer, a professor from Miskatonic University writes to disclose hitherto unknown and closely kept secrets in the hope that he can deter a planned and much publicized scientific expedition to Antarctica. On a previous expedition there, a party of scholars from Miskatonic University, led by Dyer, discovered fantastic and horrific ruins and a dangerous secret beyond a range of mountains taller than the Himalayas. They found the remains of fourteen ancient life forms, completely unknown to science and unidentifiable as either plants or animals, after discovering an underground cave while boring for ice cores. Six of the specimens are badly damaged, the others uncannily pristine. Their highly-evolved features are problematic: their stratum location puts them at a point on the geologic time scale much too early for such features to have naturally evolved yet. Because of their resemblance to creatures of myth mentioned in the Necronomicon, they are dubbed the "Elder Things" moar [wikimedia.org]

... See where this is going ...

Fungible Goods (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913172)

How exactly is that working out for China? I mean, the goods are fungible. It doesn't matter who you buy niobium from, just that you get niobium. If China won't sell it to them, someone else will.

Re:Fungible Goods (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913336)

thats a good theory and all until you realize that china supplies like 90% of the worlds supply.

not because it can't be found anywhere else...mostly just because china is the only one mining it and can undercut everyone else on labor, and due to the fact that they don't care about safety.

Re:Fungible Goods (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913554)

Those Chilean miners are damn lucky they weren't in China (or some part of Africa for that matter), if they were it would have been a write-off case kept away from the press and officials would have said "nothing to see folks, move along" despite protests from friends and family.

I think that says a lot about a country, when what most people would consider a third world nation does a better job of looking out for its people.

Chorus Motors electric motors dont use rare earths (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913194)

Chorus Motors is working with Boeing to put their electric wheel motors in Boeing's new aircraft. They are powered by the plane's APU instead of using the engines.

http://choruscars.com/

Their technology results in a smaller motor with higher torque that does not require an assist from an ICE at higher speeds in an electric vehicle. It also does not use any rare earths.

Molycorp is restarting the rare earths mine in the U.S. but the industry to process the ore will take 15 years to redevelop.

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-07-28/molycorp-s-ipo-aims-at-chinese-grip-on-smart-bombs.html

"While U.S. deposits also exist in several states such as Idaho, Wyoming and Utah, they are still being explored and could take as many as 15 years before becoming fully operational, according the GAO report."

Re:Chorus Motors electric motors dont use rare ear (5, Interesting)

Wansu (846) | about 4 years ago | (#33913294)

  Molycorp is restarting the rare earths mine in the U.S. but the industry to process the ore will take 15 years to redevelop.

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-07-28/molycorp-s-ipo-aims-at-chinese-grip-on-smart-bombs.html [businessweek.com]

"While U.S. deposits also exist in several states such as Idaho, Wyoming and Utah, they are still being explored and could take as many as 15 years before becoming fully operational, according the GAO report."

It's alot easier to get out of industries than it is to get in. I suspect this won't be the last industry we'll want to redevelop. It was foolish to get out of it in the first place. The same can be said for other industries.

Re:Chorus Motors electric motors dont use rare ear (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 4 years ago | (#33913746)

It's alot easier to get out of industries than it is to get in. I suspect this won't be the last industry we'll want to redevelop. It was foolish to get out of it in the first place. The same can be said for other industries.

On the bright side, its bringing jobs - not just McJobs either - back home. The rise of China - especially if they ever let the yuan float - may turn out to be the best thing to happen to the US in decades.

Re:Chorus Motors electric motors dont use rare ear (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913694)

So each plane is powered by its own Azusa Pacific University (http://www.google.com/search?q=APU) and does not need US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (http://www.google.com/search?q=ICE) at higher speeds?

I'm confused, can you explain the acronyms for those of us that are not in the aviation industry?

Been Living In Your Parents' ( +1, Breaking ) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913220)

basement too long? There are minerals [nytimes.com] ! in Afghanistan.

With the oil transit fees Afghanistan will be earning from transporting all that Iraqi oil [blogspot.com] , the military-industrial-pharmaceutical complex will soon be able to get any rare earth element it needs.

Yours In Samarkand,
Kilgore Trout.

That'S easy (2, Informative)

aepervius (535155) | about 4 years ago | (#33913236)

You have two way of breaking the chinese monopoly :

1)Impose a polution tax on dirty industry. That allow the local rare earth metal mining company to start again with the incured cost of respecting polution law, while still staying competitive
2) repel polution law and allow local company to polute as much as the chinese. Human resource might still make them more expensive than the chinese though.
3) make up a miracle new technology. Good luck on that one.

Re:That'S easy (1)

lul_wat (1623489) | about 4 years ago | (#33913342)

You have two way of breaking the chinese monopoly :
You have two way of breaking the monopoly :
You have two way of breaking
You have two way
have two way
two way
two

Re:That'S easy (5, Interesting)

loshwomp (468955) | about 4 years ago | (#33913916)

3) make up a miracle new technology. Good luck on that one.

Your miracle new technology is ready. (You're welcome, and thanks for the luck.)

It's called the AC induction motor, and it uses no permanent magnets--only copper and/or iron and/or aluminum. A fine example was in GM's EV-1 in the 1990s, and its descendants live on at AC Propulsion, and, consequently, Tesla Motors. Permanent magnet motors are likely to retain slightly higher efficiency, but the difference in cost of the construction materials will allow the market to take care of the rare earth "problem".

Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (4, Interesting)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 4 years ago | (#33913252)

A much simpler method would be to just drop China from the WTO and have nations around the world reinstate their trade barriers against their unfairly priced goods on the open market.

But that would be easy.

And direct.

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913356)

And they wouldn't export all the garbage they sell at the local Wal-Mart and just about every other department store.

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (1)

Ironsides (739422) | about 4 years ago | (#33913380)

I fail to see the downside.

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 4 years ago | (#33914608)

Less itamz = bad, m'key?

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913442)

And they wouldn't export all the garbage they sell at the local Wal-Mart and just about every other department store.

Then there might be incentive to make things in the U.S. again. Sounds like a double win.

(And, no, I don't mind that goods will cost more. It'll be worth it.)

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 4 years ago | (#33913458)

See, sometimes from bad things, you get good things.

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (2, Interesting)

blind biker (1066130) | about 4 years ago | (#33913464)

And they wouldn't export all the garbage they sell at the local Wal-Mart and just about every other department store.

Which would mean less lead and cadmium in toys, cosmetics and kitchenware. I can only hope.

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 4 years ago | (#33914616)

Stop hoping, buy other things if that's what you want. It's quite easy (or well, maybe not, but if you ask for them they may come.)

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (1)

hackingbear (988354) | about 4 years ago | (#33913708)

Then they will stop importing wheat, pork, chicken feet, semiconductors, airplanes, and nuclear reactors from the US and Japan and really roll up their sleeves to do researches rather than dumping R&D money in the property market as they are doing now?

If China only exports and doesn't import, they would not have got their way so far. Most people don't seem to realize that almost everything they export have the "Made" in China labels outside whereas a lot of our exports do not even have labels, such as those key components in the Made in China electronic products. Our media, of course, would not highlight these for you.

They have to import those key components partially because it will not economical to recreate such advanced low-labor products themselves, as well as to ensure some balance in the trades.

Every action has its repercussion.

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 4 years ago | (#33914428)

Again, this is not a bad thing. This would allow them to improve quite a few things, and the pollution from China would not be impacting us here on the West Coast of North America.

Things change. When the system is out of balance you can whack it with a stick and it will reach a new balance point with a more optimal solution for everyone.

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (1)

hackingbear (988354) | about 4 years ago | (#33914494)

For "us", it could be bad if you are growing wheat, corn, chickens and pigs; or if you are an engineer. That's why our government can do much but maintain a status quote. And that may also be one reason they keep buying aircraft and microprocessors instead of really making efforts to make those. They certainly understand the political need to ensure we are not really united against them, just like the US wanted to make sure China and Soviet were not united back in the 1970's when we kicked Taiwan out of UN.

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 4 years ago | (#33914544)

Lol. You have no choice. Have you seen the Russian wheat crop this year? It's amusing how little you understand about crop futures or the actual demand in China for certain goods.

Goods have a way of flowing. Just because we don't let them game the system won't mean they stop needing things.

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 4 years ago | (#33914628)

Closed borders rule. Just look at North Korea for total awesomeness.

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 4 years ago | (#33913742)

I like many other people in this country happen to like the cheaply priced crap that comes from China. I can buy things that I otherwise would be unable to afford. The quality is crap but it fits it's purpose quite nicely.

And this coming from here in Australia a place where our economy and unemployment rate is much better than that of America. If you would seriously consider dropping China, now is not the correct time to do it.

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33914320)

Good luck. China has pumped tons of money into "anti-protectionist" candidates in the US, and they preach their free trade message through the #1 news network in the US, Fox News.

(In fact, Rupert Murdoch's nth wife is a former spy for the Chinese government and since she's about 40 years from his level of senility, she gets to call a lot of the shots...).

Re:Easier alternative: drop them from the WTO (3, Insightful)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 4 years ago | (#33914366)

There is no such thing as a former spy for the Chinese government.

You meant she's supposedly on reserve status.

Thanks.

How did China come to this plan? (1)

khallow (566160) | about 4 years ago | (#33913270)

We're seeing the consequences of some old decisions by the Chinese government. So I have a request. Are there any modern Kremlinologists (the name for people who tried to divine the intent and inner workings of the former USSR) who have insight into the current resource strategy of the Chinese government and its origins? Making the deliberate decision to corner the rare earths market is a strategic one that would have required a great deal of effort and discipline, both of advocacy before the ultimate decision was made and communication, planning, and implementation afterward.

I think that would be a interesting window into the decision making process and the sources of power in the Chinese government.

Re:How did China come to this plan? (1)

mbkennel (97636) | about 4 years ago | (#33913474)

"Are there any modern Kremlinologists (the name for people who tried to divine the intent and inner workings of the former USSR) who have insight into the current resource strategy of the Chinese government and its origins?"

I'm no CIA expert but the strategy seems to be this

1) CCP win.
2) You lose.
3) Profit.

Hokey religions and ancient political ideologies are no match for a mercantalist blaster at your side, kid.

Re:How did China come to this plan? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913858)

You give the idea of central planning too much credit.

China has cheap labor (the result of a huge, poor population) and next to no environmental regulations. This means that mining can be cheap and dirty, far cheaper than anywhere else.This "strategy" of undercutting the world has paid off in a monopoly over virtually all manufacturing, including mining.

It's not so much a result of a plan to corner the market for this or that as a general model of exploiting the countries natural and human resources to the greatest degree possible.

Dig Deeper (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913292)

China's on the other side of the planet. If we dig deep enough, we can mine their rare earth.

Import Tariffs would fix this (5, Insightful)

HighOrbit (631451) | about 4 years ago | (#33913316)

From the article

Although well over 90 percent of the minerals are produced in China, they are found in many places around the world, and, in spite of their name, are actually abundant in the earth's crust (the name is a hold-over from a 19th-century convention). In recent years, low-cost Chinese production and environmental concerns have caused suppliers outside of China to shut down operations.

In other words, we (the West) have artifically created this situation by shutting down our own mines with labor and evironmental regulations, while allowing China (with no real enforcement of labor or environmental regulations, even if they are on the books) to dominate the market. I saw a TV spot about this a while back and apparently there was an operating mine in California as recently as 10 years ago, which simply wasn't able to compete with Chinese prices because the California mine had the expense of actually complying with the US environmental regulations. That gives the Chinese an artificial price advantage.

The market for these goods are mostly export markets in Japan, North America, and Europe, so this is in our power to control. To stimulate production in the west, we could do one of two things : 1) eliminate our own self-imposed regulations (perhaps unacceptabe from an environmental point of view) or 2) eliminate the artifical price advantage that the chinese have from not having regulations. I would choose # 2. We need only tax chinese imports and goods with chinese components. For example, say a motor from Japan uses magnets and is being exported to the USA, then the manufacturer would need to demonstrate that the magnet was made from non-chinese metals to be exempt from an import tariff. Once the artifical price advantage of the chinese component is nullfied, the manufacturer would be willing to pay higher prices from other non-chinese mines. Then other mines outside China would arise in the market. As an added side-effect, the Chinese might even begin regulating their own industry to get out from under the tariff.

oops, blockquote didn't work (2, Interesting)

HighOrbit (631451) | about 4 years ago | (#33913352)

Here is the part of the article I was quoting:

Although well over 90 percent of the minerals are produced in China, they are found in many places around the world, and, in spite of their name, are actually abundant in the earth's crust (the name is a hold-over from a 19th-century convention). In recent years, low-cost Chinese production and environmental concerns have caused suppliers outside of China to shut down operations.

Re:Import Tariffs would fix this (1)

mea37 (1201159) | about 4 years ago | (#33913398)

In a world without trade treaties or the possibility of retalliation from China, that would be a possible solution.

Not a popular one, though. Tho dollars that pay those tarrifs end up coming out of consumers' pockets.

Re:Import Tariffs would fix this (1)

poopdeville (841677) | about 4 years ago | (#33913506)

That may or may not be a bad thing. It is important that prices reflect the supply and scarcity of a resource, or else we will run out of it.

What? (-1, Redundant)

jav1231 (539129) | about 4 years ago | (#33913334)

I think you can still buy Rare Earth MP3's on Amazon. I haven't checked the Apple Music Store but I would imagine they would have some. Why the fascination in China with the '70's group? Eh...the French love Jerry Lewis.

History repeats? (1, Interesting)

Ironsides (739422) | about 4 years ago | (#33913354)

In 1920 the operators at AT&T striked. This led AT&T to pick up the pace and change it's entire network over to switches and the rotary phone. AT&T had resisted this prior to it realizing how vulnerable it was to a strike.

It would be just history repeating itself if this action by China led us to a way to replace Rare Earths entirely rendering them obsolete. But that still depends on us being able to duplicate the effects.

Re:History repeats? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913452)

I wish you could learn the difference between its and it's. It really sticks out like a sore thumb, honestly it's like getting an icepick in the eyes. IT'S means IT IS. There, that's all you ever need to know. What is the problem?

Re:History repeats? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913822)

sorry sad cold
plain out of luck
but I dont give a shit
I dont give a fuck

Yes, History repeats (1)

hackingbear (988354) | about 4 years ago | (#33913890)

Where will these iron-cobalt magnets be made? Yes, history will repeat.

Miracle magnets are already here (0)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | about 4 years ago | (#33913370)

There are many rare-earth materials but as far as Neodymium and magnets are concerned, Neodymium is probably going to get replaced by Fe16N2 magnets as soon as they figure out how to mass-produce the particular crystal that makes this type of magnet. Of course the nice thing is no exotic rare-earth materials required.

Here's some random reference that describes it: http://nextbigfuture.com/2010/03/fe16n2-crystals-most-magnetic-material.html [nextbigfuture.com] You could probably find a better one but you won't because you're too lazy!

BTM

The Yellow Peril (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913392)

Egad!

We must Fear china or else we will Perish!

The Rare Earths, though relatively abundant and simply expensive to process, are the Boot that the Yellow Peril People have on our Neck!

Forget the fact that we can get our own supply of the stuff relatively simply by just mining the supplies that are on our own territory, as long as we are willing to handle the ~5-year startup time and the (probably) higher unit prices.

What we must do now is PANIC because the CHINESE are plotting against us!

And don't worry that our Paranoia will contribute to the possibility of a devastating USA-China war; for now, all we can do is Worry and Fret!

To the Caves of Worry!

Re:The Yellow Peril (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | about 4 years ago | (#33913528)

I couldn't help but reading that in my mind in the style of one of Harry Enfield's sketches.

Re:The Yellow Peril (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913844)

It wasn't too kamp, was it?

Rare Earth Metals aren't so rare (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913418)

Rare earth metals aren't really that rare despite their name. China is good at mining them cheaply, which caused most everyone else shut down production. Some countries (U.S.A) are looking at reopening mines. By playing these games China may be shooting themselves in the foot. Time will tell.

Rare earth is not rare... (5, Informative)

mathfeel (937008) | about 4 years ago | (#33913420)

There were many mines in North America. They were shut down because to comply with US/Canadian environmental regulation and pay the wages here would put them in a huge competitive disadvantage versus the Chinese mines. You just can't compete with places where they put environment and worker protection at such low places in their priorities.

Re:Rare earth is not rare... (1)

Beorytis (1014777) | about 4 years ago | (#33913612)

You just can't compete with places where they put environment and worker protection at such low places in their priorities.

Maybe Chile has some rare earths to sell. They're definitely working recently to demonstrate their respect for the lives of their mine workers. I'm not sure about their environmental record. They definitely have metals mining infrastructure— 40% of their GDP is in mining. They're probably more expensive than China, but maybe cheaper than other capable places.

Rare earths are not... rare! (1)

excelsior_gr (969383) | about 4 years ago | (#33913422)

The "rare" in rare earths does not mean "scarce". Just start digging them out elsewhere.

it's about more than rare earths (4, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 4 years ago | (#33913446)

as others have noted, there are enough rare earths, they aren't that rare. it's just that china, wihtout any work force laws or legal protections for its workers it is allowed to treat like slaves of the state, is able to parlay that into cheaper prices. so mining elsewhere withers and atrophies

if push came to shove, we can start new mines rather quickly

what worries me is manufacturing know how and infrastructure. it takes a generation to have a good manufacturing base, at least. and i'm not talking machines, i'm talking people. the manufacturing base is dying in the west, as everything moves to china

this is where china can really squeeze us, and we won't be able to react fast enough, because in a decade or two, we won't know how to make anything, it will all be made in china

we need to keep our manufacturing base, the whole spectrum of technologies and know how and expertise, humming along here

a rare earth is a rare earth, whether dug up in california or inner mongolia

but that 70 year old guy who knows how all about phase transitions in the manufacture of specialty glasses, or that 80 year old guy who knows all about resistance settings on collodial separation equipment, or whatever: when they go, its gone, the only other brain with that info is in shanghai

it's like us in the west watching iran trying to build a nuclear bomb and stumbling in its lack of knowhow. in 20-30 years, in a conflict, china could be in the same position, just watching us try to manufacture all sorts of high specialized industrial applications and us over here going "how do you do this?" "i dunno, the guy who knew that died 20 years ago" "well where's his knowledge backup?" "well, the bank of china bought that portfolio 10 years ago and moved it all to guangzhou, no one at the time thought it was a big deal"

Re:it's about more than rare earths (2, Informative)

dattaway (3088) | about 4 years ago | (#33913990)

The attempted solution to that is documenting an ISO process for everything in manufacturing. From what I have seen, this only looks good on paper. Trying to start a new production line by the book without experience may take longer than learning from scratch.

F'ing Magnets... (1)

Stregano (1285764) | about 4 years ago | (#33913468)

...how do they work?

YES NEBRASKA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33913632)

YES NEBRASKA

No blood for Yttrium (1)

Beorytis (1014777) | about 4 years ago | (#33913684)

Now I get why we're in Afghanistan.

recyle what we throw out (1)

jpc1957 (1820122) | about 4 years ago | (#33913830)

More sane recycle policy/incentives for all the products that use rare earth metals would help.

Fucking Magnets. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33914302)

Fucking magnets, how do they work?

Robotics industry booms? (1)

mmaniaci (1200061) | about 4 years ago | (#33914408)

This is purely speculation, so take it with a grain of salt: No raw materials and manufacturing work from China due to embargoes and general asshattery --> Huge demand for mats and mfg --> No workforce willing/able/allowed to do the work --> the perpetually "almost there" robotics industry lurches forward to fill the void. The warehousing [kivasystems.com] industry [rmtrobotics.com] has already been transformed by robots, and theres plenty of talk [google.com] about robotic mining already. I can't help but think that all this is quite a good thing.
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