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Where Next-Generation Rare Earth Metals May Come From

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the when-two-minerals-love-each-other-very-much dept.

China 179

retroworks writes "Great piece in The Atlantic by Kyle Wiens of IFIXIT.org, who visited and photographed the Molycorp Mountain Pass rare earth facility in California's Mojave Desert. The mine is the only source of rare earths in North America, one of the only alternatives to the mineral cartels in China, and one of the only sources for the key metals such as tantalum needed in cell phones. There is of course actually one other source of rare earth metals in the USA — recycled cell phones. Is the best 'state of the art' mining as good as the worst state of the art recycling? If the U.S. Department of Energy subsidizes the mine, will China open the floodgates and put it out of business? Or will electronics be manufactured with alternative materials before the mine ever becomes fully scaleable?"

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my ass (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138107)

They'll fly out of my ass and I'll be rich biatch!

In a not so distant future... (5, Funny)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138109)

...rare Earth metals may come from the Moon. We didn't do that yet, because no one knows how to call them.

Re:In a not so distant future... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138335)

...rare Earth metals may come from the Moon. We didn't do that yet, because no one knows how to call them.

That's about as clever as a ghetto nigger on welfare who thinks getting knocked up is a great idea.

Re:In a not so distant future... (4, Insightful)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138865)

My post is indeed not very clever. I won't thank you, but thanks to your unfortunate post, mine looks brillant now. Relativity...

Re:In a not so distant future... (5, Interesting)

forkfail (228161) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138433)

Long before that, they'll come from Afghanistan, in all likelihood:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=afghanistan-holds-enormous-bounty-of-rare-earths [scientificamerican.com]

(which may explain a few things...)

Re:In a not so distant future... (2)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139101)

Well by 2014 we're supposed to have pretty much all American troops out of Afghanistan. Even if mining companies were to get set up in the area, what are they going to do to protect themselves against insurgents and/or banditry? Hire a private army?

Re:In a not so distant future... (1)

forkfail (228161) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139249)

If we really are out by then, Blackwater^W Xe will need something to do.

Re:In a not so distant future... (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139281)

Do what you do anywhere that's unstable: find out who's running the areas you need, and how much money they want to protect you against everyone else. Then run the numbers to see if the mine still pays.

Re:In a not so distant future... (2)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139365)

Hiring a private army is the traditional solution, yes.

Re:In a not so distant future... (2)

slew (2918) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139489)

Well by 2014 we're supposed to have pretty much all American troops out of Afghanistan. Even if mining companies were to get set up in the area, what are they going to do to protect themselves against insurgents and/or banditry? Hire a private army?

Just about diamond mine today has their own private army. Why would this mining operation be any different?

http://www.iss.co.za/pubs/books/peaceprofitplunder/chap9.pdf [iss.co.za]

Re:In a not so distant future... (1)

datavirtue (1104259) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139577)

I've heard that one before. It is campaign jostling. Also, there is a supposed troop draw down ("coming home") but then you find out that 10000 troops are being pulled from European bases with no mention of them going home. Where are they headed? Recycling.

Re:In a not so distant future... (3, Interesting)

phrostie (121428) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138727)

I suspect mining landfills is going to be a major industry in the century to come.
I wonder how you would go about looking to see who, if anyone, has been buying up mineral rights on landfills?

Re:In a not so distant future... (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138941)

I suspect mining landfills is going to be a major industry in the century to come.
I wonder how you would go about looking to see who, if anyone, has been buying up mineral rights on landfills?

Seems to be an improbably old and frail gentleman, who goes by the name of Monty Burns.

Re:In a not so distant future... (1)

m.ducharme (1082683) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138963)

That's Mister Burns!

Not the only place (4, Informative)

husker_man (473297) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138155)

There are rare-earth deposits in other places - like Elk City, Nebraska having resources of the rare metals [washingtontimes.com] . However, it wouldn't be much fun to be running a mine in the middle of the desert.

Re:Not the only place (2)

lightknight (213164) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138213)

Hmm. Does anyone know just how well the various resources of the United States have been mapped?

Re:Not the only place (5, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138563)

Hmm. Does anyone know just how well the various resources of the United States have been mapped?

Google comes up with fantastically interesting [usgs.gov] stuff sometimes. And it's even safe for work!

Re:Not the only place (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138795)

Wow, there is a large deposit of hot air in the Washington DC area.

Re:Not the only place (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139107)

That's simply methane emissions heating the air as it comes off of all the bullshit floating around down there./p.

Re:Not the only place (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139113)

That deposit has been well known since about 1800.

Re:Not the only place (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138973)

Yes, but that's a map and report made by a socialist, government organization (USGS [wikipedia.org] ) within the US Department of Interior, which everybody knows is a useless department that deserves to be abolished for the sake of saving tax dollars. Well, according to some people.

Re:Not the only place (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39139081)

careful, you might summon roman_mir

Re:Not the only place (2)

MollyB (162595) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138583)

Detailed maps of valuable deposits would be proprietary, I should think. The US Geological Survey does provide maps [usgs.gov] of mineral resources.

Re:Not the only place (1)

clueless_penguin (514639) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139337)

Hopefully those maps are better than the one that put Nebraska in the desert.

Re:Not the only place (3, Interesting)

trainman (6872) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138301)

There are also mines starting up for rare earths in the Canadian arctic. Actually, quite large deposits up there from what I've read.

Re:Not the only place (3, Informative)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138453)

I thought Australia was proving to be rich in rare Earch metals.

Linky [australianrareearths.com]

Re:Not the only place (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139133)

rare Earch metals.

Clearly wherever you live is rich in high-proof alcohol and has a liberal policy towards drinking at work. d=

Re:Not the only place (1)

gnick (1211984) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138507)

...it wouldn't be much fun to be running a mine in the middle of the desert.

There are many, many mines that are unpleasant to run or work in. But if the resource you're mining is valuable enough you can attract the people you need (for the right price). If it's profitable, they will come.

Re:Not the only place (4, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138523)

However, it wouldn't be much fun to be running a mine in the middle of the desert.

Actually, high volume / low yield mining is probably best done in a desert (if it can be done in an environmentally sane fashion anywhere). Remember, these are not high grade ores. It's not like you pick axe out a block of Yttiribilium (or however you spell these silly names). You get a pile of rocks with a bit more Yttiribilium than the surrounding rocks and then you process it into a slurry with more Yttiribilium and then it goes off and gets smelted.

There was an interesting article somewhere suggesting that the best way to do this in terms of minimizing mining and water waste was to crush the ore, separate the rare earths using magnets and getting the concentration up to around 50%. It would then be economically feasible to haul that much smaller volume of rock to the a large, perhaps one off facility, that purified the material and dealt with the large amount of tainted water, dust and heavy metals that the refinery process entailed.

Re:Not the only place (4, Funny)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139207)

It's not like you pick axe out a block of Yttiribilium (or however you spell these silly names).

WHAT?! Minecraft LIED to me!

Re:Not the only place (1)

eth1 (94901) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138555)

Eh? We have geologists guarded by Marines working to survey Afghanistan because of all the rare-earth stuff there, and get mines up and running to kickstart their economy.

I'm sure we can handle Nebraska.

Re:Not the only place (3, Insightful)

mikael (484) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138621)

It would be even worse running a mine in downtown LA or New York. Imagine trying to get all those Caterpillar 797's and Liebherr T282B's through rush-hour traffic ....

Re:Not the only place (1)

rotorbudd (1242864) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138671)

I think the rush hour would be easy for the tracks.
Different story for the cars and trucks tho.

Re:Not the only place (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139259)

No need to imagine. [youtube.com] There are lots of videos online.

Re:Not the only place (3, Informative)

ccool (628215) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139013)

There is also some deposit in Canada.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoidas_Lake [wikipedia.org]

I have been to a conference in 2009 where the speaker was talking about a mine which would open in a few years.

Re:Not the only place (1)

cusco (717999) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139523)

I think most deserts are more interesting than Nebraska.

The best place for a rare earth mine would be somewhere like the Atacama Desert (which also has some good deposits). No issues with messing up the ecosystem, because there **IS** no ecosystem there. It's not a desert like the Sahara or Chihuahua were there are cacti and bugs, because when it rains only once every couple of centuries nothing can survive. There are areas of the Atacama where there aren't even detectable levels of bacteria. They fed sand from the Atacama to the equipment on the Viking Mars lander, and it didn't find life. If you're going to create an enviornmental catastrophe, like rare earth mines tend to do, that's the place to do it.

Summary is editorial. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138159)

And wrong at that. There are rare earths in many more products then cell phones. There are other sources, just not other mines etc.

Lame article (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138163)

Superficial article about Mountain Pass. The big problem they have is finding a place to dump the tailings. A rare earth mine needs big settling ponds. The Mountain Pass solution is that they've built a pipeline to Ivanpah Dry Lake on the Nevada border.

The mine tailings are slightly radioactive, because the dirt in the area being mined has some uranium and thorium in it. This isn't a big deal once the water has evaporated and it's solid material again, but the water in the tailings ponds has to be kept from leaching into a water supply.

Re:Lame article (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138475)

All the same, as someone who has recently invented a new form of energy storage that relies upon several ceramics comprised in part of rare Earth elements - and having to deal with foreign vendors for the ceramics - I can definitely say its a challenge. Virtually all rare-earth suppliers are in the Asia/Pacific area - all of them get their rare Earths from China, and China is increasingly locking down the supply (they will of course build whatever you want made out of Rare Earths at an incredibly competitive price, but if you want to buy the raw materials instead of the finished component there is a very tightly controlled channel to go through with strict limits on how much can be exported - IMO this is to get the designs of what is being built so they can control the manufacturing side). In short: all of our latest technology requires rare Earths, all foreseeable technology will require it - rare Earths are practically the new Oil, we should have our mine running ALONG WITH a strong rare Earth recycling program, possibly go further and provoke the Icelandic mines to open up as well as encourage (even buy stock from) companies in Japan readying to mine the massive supply of rare Earths on the Pacific Ocean seabed.

Re:Lame article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138849)

PPeople keep saying we should dig for this, or mine that. How bout we wait til we run everybody else out. Then use ours?

Re:Lame article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39139135)

PPeople keep saying we should dig for this, or mine that. How bout we wait til we run everybody else out. Then use ours?

That sounds great, except in the meantime China is free to innovate and get our innovations for free. When they run out we will be stuck with not only a country largely deprived of the know-how to manufacture, but also with a lower technological standing. Placing us much in the same position as Afghanistan is to us now - sitting on resources with no real technology to defend them. On the opposite side of the coin, Afghanistan is packed with rare Earths they aren't using.

Re:Lame article (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138545)

Gee, if only we had something that could use uranium and thorium. We could kill two birds with one stone.

Plenty of rare earths in NA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138197)

What's keeping us from extracting them is the lack of a secondary market. The time the tailings are chock full of light radioactives like Thorium. We don't know what to do with the stuff, but China does, or otherwise doesn't care about the pollution.

Re:Plenty of rare earths in NA (2)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138611)

Not only in the US, but in other parts of the world too.
After all, about half the rare earth metals are named after a single Swedish town and the scientists working on samples from there. But minerals with rare earth elements in them can be found in numerous places.

The question is how high the price must go before commercial mining or even prospecting becomes lucrative, given the higher environmental concerns in countries outside China, Columbia and South Africa. It's (for now) cheaper to close ones eyes and let these countries mine it and deal with (or ignore) the pollution problems.

Mission. ****ing. Accomplished. (2, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138237)

So if we make the mine operational and then China starts providing us with cheap metal, I don't see the problem. Keep the mine maintained, and ready for use, and let China load us up with cheap minerals. Oh, of course making this situation of allowing many hundreds of businesses and hundreds of millions of consumers to thrive in an atmosphere of reduced costs would depend on the government buying out or subsidizing one...

Naturally, this will have conservatives crawling out of the woodwork to declare that capitalism is being subverted and to let the market decide. I will quietly pray that the other business leaders wait for those conservatives to go home, and then beat them until all the stupid has leaked out...

Re:Mission. ****ing. Accomplished. (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138329)

So if we make the mine operational and then China starts providing us with cheap metal, I don't see the problem.

It isn't a problem for us as consumers, but Molycorp is going to need to think long and hard about it.

Re:Mission. ****ing. Accomplished. (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138673)

Mr. President! We must not allow ..... a Rare-Earth Metal's Gap!

Re:Mission. ****ing. Accomplished. (2)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138431)

Opening the mine and, if necessary, subsidizing it may be the best answer in a situation like this. However the important thing is to maintain the availability of the resource, not necessarily to keep the price low.

I'm sure the far right would consider this sacrilege to the God of Free Markets, but sometimes when you're dealing with entities like China you need to be willing to stray slightly from your ideology sometimes, for everyone's sake.

Re:Mission. ****ing. Accomplished. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138629)

China starts providing us with cheap metal

...and continue dumping the effluent in the nearest body of water, eight thousand miles away, free of costly regulation and legal consequences, so you can have cheap electronics, imported well clear of the damage.

Mission accomplished indeed.

subsidizing one [snip] have conservatives crawling

Hmm. Doesn't the left call that "corporate welfare"?

Re:Mission. ****ing. Accomplished. (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139357)

China won't let you have raw materials. They'll require you to move all your manufacturing to China, so that they control that, leaving you like a third-world country with no technology or know-how.

Re:Mission. ****ing. Accomplished. (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139511)

It's not really a problem that needs to be worried about. The primary reason that China is reducing the amount of rare earth metals it is exporting is because its own demand is starting to consume most of its supply. This means that they are unlikely to be in a position to dump enough rare earth metals onto the market to drive prices down.
That being said, I would expect the objection your plan to come from liberals decrying "corporate welfare".

Mineral Cartels in China? (3, Interesting)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138243)

Just to be clear: rare earth minerals are mined in numerous countries.
Our problem is that China had a national strategy of buying up as many mines and refineries as it could.
By creating a vertical *monopoly, China has made it very hard for anyone else to enter the market.

Assuming China doesn't implode from its demographic and financial problems, there's a serious risk that China's state capitalism is going to outcompete America's free/mixed market capitalism.

*sometimes monopolies lower prices. When this happens to a market with high start up costs, it deters anyone else from entering.

Re:Mineral Cartels in China? (4, Insightful)

alexander_686 (957440) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138711)

To clarify, it’s not a monopoly per say. It’s the market structure that makes it hard for anybody to enter.

To start a rare earth mine requires long lead times, large up-front capital spending, and high running costs (As have been mentioned, these mines produce a lot of trailings that need special environmental handling).

Any competitor entering the market would face a opponent that has already spent huge amounts on it’s fixed capital (i.e. sunk costs). What normally happens in these situations is a long, brutal price war as the established company lowers it price because it does not have to recoup it’s sunk costs. So anybody who enters the market could not count on today’s high prices.

If the established company want’s it’s monopoly, it can even “dump” product onto the market for years, starving it’s completion.

  Factor in that you are going against a state sponsored Chinese company that has access to cheap capital (effectively reducing the cost of it’s fixed capital) and lower requirements to it’s environmental laws.

Re:Mineral Cartels in China? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39139181)

If it's strategically important enough, the government can legislate against the unfair competition either through tariffs or outright import bans, or take up the case with international bodies. That the US does not do so is because we seem to have misplaced our spine sometime in the past 25 years.

Re:Mineral Cartels in China? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39139573)

Mod Parent Up - ffs it takes $150 to ship a box to China that costs $2 coming here.

Re:Mineral Cartels in China? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39139221)

If only we had mining companies that where worth hundreds of billions of dollars who can borrow money cheaper than most countries to finance such an operation when it becomes profitable..

"one of the only?" (1)

owenferguson (521762) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138271)

Seriously? "One of the only?" Which is it, smart guy.

Re:"one of the only?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138359)

The y, probably.

And whence the coltan? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138345)

Until we stop importing rare earths that are mined in deplorable conditions nothing will change.

Market Economics (1)

Phoenix666 (184391) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138363)

Market Economics don't quite apply in this case. It was market economics that put the mine out of business in the first place. The Chinese undercut them until they could not continue.

The recent Chinese trade embargo on rare earth elements did expose the world's strategic vulnerability to the single source in China. Both the US government and the EU woke up in a hot hurry and determined to do what's necessary to revive alternate sources.

The mine and its counterparts elsewhere will, in this case, have the government support they need to to provide critical materiel to industry. Alternative materials may come to the fore eventually, but for now governments will do the necessary.

don't forget Northern Quebec! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138371)

Northern Quebec has rare-earth deposits as well. With the coming development of the region with the "north plan", several companies that I know are currently developing technologies to sort out the rare-earth materials from each others and do it profitably in that region.

Why no right-thinking person believes in free trad (3, Interesting)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138461)

will China open the floodgates and put it out of business

Whenever I've had conversations with libertarians about how free trade would actually work in the real world where governments frequently aggressively protect corporate interests, they always stammer "buh buh the free market will prevail." Really? You mean American companies going up against Chinese state-owned companies or companies with tacit backing from the Chinese central government aren't going to face crushing problems competing against that level of cohesion between state and corporate power? Anyone remember what happen to the Australian mining executives who were imprisoned a while back for having the audacity to negotiate hardball style with their Chinese counterparts under the mistaken premise that it was a meeting of equals?

When this country was at its most economically free, we had high tariffs. That's an indisputable fact that no free trader can deny unless they want to argue that slavery was so heinous that it overshadows all of the economic freedom in all areas of employment, property ownership, business creation, etc. that was enjoyed in the late 18th century and most of the 19th century.

Re:Why no right-thinking person believes in free t (3, Informative)

Pope (17780) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138561)

The simplistic answer is that fee companies competing with state-sponsored ones is by very definition not a free market.

Re:Why no right-thinking person believes in free t (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138601)

Ah yes, we all know how well China's government control over their corporations has really let them blossom over the last 100 years. In fact, up until their government started relaxing their strangling grip, and a middle class started rising, China's been the best economy in the world, and now it's steadily going downhill as it approaches a more-free market!

Now, if only China would radically increase their trading costs with the rest of the world, and isolate their economy from globalization will they REALLY become an economic power to contend with!

Dumbass.

Re:Why no right-thinking person believes in free t (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138609)

Whenever I've had conversations with libertarians about how free trade would actually work in the real world

See, there's your problem.

Sadly, the Libertarian model more or less assumes that nothing about current reality applies, and that we can hit a big reset button and start from scratch in a bubble where all of their little assumptions would hold true by sheer force of will.

It's like bed-time stories for economists.

There will always be inequalilties that keep that perfectly free market from happening, and countries will always try to bolster their own industry over others. The US does this in many areas (agriculture, steel, lumber) and seems to expect they can protect their own companies while trying to skew the playing field against foreign competition who have a different cost structure.

To me, there's simply nothing to actually support the notion that the Libertarian free market could ever exist. And, if it did, it sure isn't going to bring about all of the positive things it claims ... mostly the world would devolve into the rich having all of the privileges, and the rest of us being left to duke it out for scraps. But apparently, that's a good thing somehow.

Re:Why no right-thinking person believes in free t (3, Interesting)

eth1 (94901) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138639)

My first thought when I read that was that if China starts selling the stuff at insanely low prices (at a subsidized loss) to beat out domestic competition, why don't we just start buying it up and stockpiling it.

That would give us a buffer if they decide to cut us off, and we wouldn't need to buy from them for a while if they raise the prices, which might cause them to keep underselling themselves.

Re:Why no right-thinking person believes in free t (3, Insightful)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138687)

You don't understand what free trade is. That's your problem. We do NOT have free trade in the united states... not by a long shot. We subsidize one industry, tax another, we bribe other countries to sell us cheap goods with economic and military aid. If China is willing to sell goods for cheaper than it costs to produce, then that's good for us. The rare earth metals will remain in our country while we bleed China dry. You can only try to manipulate the market for so long before you run out of money. That time is fast approaching for China. The price of goods will suddenly skyrocket and manufacturing in the US will suddenly seem a lot more reasonable (it's actually already starting to happen) The only thing standing in our way is our government and its silly programs designed to aid industry and other countries. Let oil rise to its real value (likely $8-$10/gallon) and see what happens to the automotive industry. Stop subsidizing farmers and giving the food away to countries that can't afford to produce it themselves. When the cost of a bad of grain goes from "free" to $20, see how quick local business's figure out the free market.

Re:Why no right-thinking person believes in free t (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138819)

His problem is he is talking to imaginary 'libertarian' strawmen.

It is best just to walk on when you run into someone who talks to trees (or strawmen). If he could understand your post he would, at least, construct better strawmen to have discussions with.

Re:Why no right-thinking person believes in free t (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138803)

conversations with libertarians

Really? From my experience, libertarians are extreme ideologues. They don't hold conversations. They just preach their beliefs, ignoring anything other people say

Re:Why no right-thinking person believes in free t (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39139477)

Perhaps you just haven't met the right Libertarians or perhaps you failed to hold up your end of the conversation. If you want to speak to a Libertarian you should be prepared not just for a political discussion, but for a philosophical one as well. Many people just tune out when the discussion turns to philosophy. Also try talking to a Libertarian who is more intelligent than you are. Not less. You might actually learn something.

Re:Why no right-thinking person believes in free t (2)

lightknight (213164) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138861)

Indeed. However, the general thought is that although the [Insert Foreign Power] can tacitly back one of their chosen industries, to do so they must pull resources from somewhere else, which creates an opening.

Think of the marketplace as a battlefield. To put 5 more tanks on the lines protecting [Insert Politically-Favored Company], they must draw 5 tanks away from [Insert Some Other Company Not Held In As High Regard]. They strengthen one, at the cost of another; by focusing on their front lines, they've left their flanks unguarded. When the imbalance becomes large enough, competition from within and without begins appearing in earnest, destroying what's left of those weakened companies, and coming up from behind on those previously favored companies.

To protect GM, the United States had to ultimately sacrifice a fair number of less-favored, weaker, and / or newly created companies. Ultimately, it's a form of cannibalization, where Saturn eats his sons to maintain his power (to mix in some Roman mythology here, just for fun).

This is why protectionist economies eventually fail -> the market moves at light-speed or faster, cannot be bribed, and is constantly checking for weaknesses; the people working the protectionist racket move at human speeds, can be bribed, and are not always aware of weaknesses in either themselves, their friends, or their enemies. As the effects of poor decisions take some time to ripple throughout the markets (the effects thereof, not the decisions themselves), endlessly cascading until they hit a particular resonance (at which point destruction, creative or otherwise appears), things such as high tariffs may take several years to destroy a healthy economy. Feel me? It's like losing a loved one, acknowledging the fact thereof for many months, but only realizing it / feeling it on some quiet afternoon when you suddenly break out in tears, but don't know why.

 

Re:Why no right-thinking person believes in free t (3, Interesting)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139061)

Whenever I've had conversations with libertarians about how free trade would actually work in the real world where governments frequently aggressively protect corporate interests, they always stammer "buh buh the free market will prevail."

Here, let me try.

When China subsidises it's own mines to drive prices down and force the competition out of business, our local mines will shutter and we all enjoy the benefits of rare earth minerals paid for, in part, by the Chinese taxpayer. We all win with the exception of the miners who were working at the mines. The mine owners may be forced to sell then mine to someone with enought foresight to know that the prices won't stay low forever. And they would be correct.

Once the Chinese government thinks they have a lock on the market and raises prices, the domestic mines open back up and begin to reap the large profits from the elevated prices of these rare earth minerals. Eventually, the price will lower and stabilize once supply reaches and equalibrium with demand.

So, yeah! The free markets will prevail. The main losers here would be the Chinese government and taxpayer who subsidized the materials that we used to build stuff and sell back to them at a profit. (Actually, they'd be the ones building it... but for Apple, who is American based)

Really? The only source? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138481)

There are extractable deposits all through Colorado and New Mexico.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climax,_Colorado

Re:Really? The only source? (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139085)

There are extractable deposits all through Colorado and New Mexico.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climax,_Colorado

But first you need to get past the Sierra Club. Good luck with that.

From my out of my rainbow ass like skittles (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138495)

rare earth?
you seen taht poon-tang too eh?
we fart them out.
we fart them out from planet of the skittles fart apes.
nwo stfu bitchez

North America rare earth mine and deposit (1)

Backflasher (2581175) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138529)

By digging aroung you can find rare earth in North America. Some examples:

IAMGOLD Corp. [google.ca] - Niobec Niobium Mine [iamgold.com]
MDN Inc [google.ca] - Crevier Deposit [mdn-mines.com] : Niobium, Tantalum and Zirconium resource
Dios Exploration Inc. [google.ca] : Lithium, Niobium and Rare Earths [diosexplo.com]

Not well researched (1)

Squidlips (1206004) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138551)

There are two other potential new sources that were missed in this article: Greenland and deep-sea muds around vents.

Re:Not well researched (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138605)

Hmm. I've got some deep-sea mud around my vent.

US exports rare earths all the time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138613)

How much rare earth exporting is the US doing? And by that, I mean all 'excess' used electronics we send over seas to be 'dealt with'.

Random metric I heard recently was for every 1000 lbs of cell phones, there's $800 in gold to be mined from that. Now how many other rare earths are in that same 1000 lbs? That's not even touching computers or monitors...

If I had the money, I'd build an electronics recycling center and mine the minerals 24/7. Freezing components with liquid N, or He depending on density and substance, then shatter the devices with pressure waves. Then seperate the the various minerals w/ centrifuges, sluices, and screens. Seal the entire facilty to recoup the lost He, and recompress that right back into the system.

Compare that process against locating, mining, seperating, smelting, shipping, and re-integrating the minerals for future components. That is of course, if your source is domestic, else you've reached trade agree with the foreign country and can outbid or negotiate against competing countries and corporations.

Re:US exports rare earths all the time (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138875)

If you had the money, you would run a business case for your billion dollar recycling center and decide to keep it invested.

That's how people keep their money. Now get to work, you need to make payments on your new Prius.

Isn't recycling the best source of rare earths? (3, Informative)

mspohr (589790) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138681)

It seems that the second link in the summary is being ignored (by both /. and industry). The concentration of rare earth elements in used electronics (cell phones, displays, computers, etc.) is many thousand times higher than their concentrations in rare earth ores. Rather than tearing up and polluting large areas of the earth with new mining, it would seem to be much more cost efficient and easier on the environment to "mine" used electronics.

Re:Isn't recycling the best source of rare earths? (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139237)

that is making an assumption that we will never need more than what has already been mined.. what makes better sense is to do both at the same time.

More than just cell phones (1)

pz (113803) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138695)

While it would not surprise me that discarded cell phones form a significant waste stream, saying ...

There is of course actually one other source of rare earth metals in the USA — recycled cell phones.

suggests that there isn't any other source. More-or-less all electronics consumer goods have rare-earth materials in them, from TVs to computers, to stereos, to MP3 players, to microwave ovens, and so forth. Essentially anything that's going to have a circuit board in it is going to have rare-earth materials that might be re-processed. And we have all of those lovely landfills just waiting to be mined, too.

In the same vein, the summary suggests that cell phones are the only reason to think rare earths important when, again, every segment of the electronics manufacturing industry is wondering where they're going to get tantalum capacitors in the coming years.

Rare earth bust? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138707)

With all the posters pointing out rare earth deposits in other areas I can't help but think we might have a glut of rare earths in 10 years. It takea a while to get the mine up and running. You mine all that material in anticipation of a market. Then lo and behold you have a bunch of recycled phones, old wind turbines being replaced, etc. Next thing you know there's a bust in mining. That's why most of us kids shouldn't play on the commodity investing freeway.

Trash dumps in general (3, Interesting)

wjcofkc (964165) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138729)

I have long held the idea that a future industry will be the comprehensive mining of trash dumps.

National Geographic had a good article a year ago (5, Informative)

wbr1 (2538558) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138749)

NGC here has a good article [nationalgeographic.com] . One of the issues though again is cheaper labor and lax restrictions in China. Processing rare earths is labor intensive and can generate toxic and radioactive by-products which are fare more expensive to deal with in our regulatory system from an environmental and worker safety perspective.

Think too much (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138783)

Mainland China's control in rare earth is exactly because those corporations were selling rare earth at a overly low price and in a overly large quantity. And there're definitely a lot other places with these rare earth. Hence to protect the reserve, the mainland China government definitely need to control it.

Having other rare Earth mines elsewhere is exactly what they want. That'll put much less stress in China's rare earth reserve, and less pressure from foreign governments about it. China's totally not interest in over producing again since that was exactly the problem.

Why not process sea water? (1)

JustNiz (692889) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138801)

Sea water is full of everything and follows no boundaries.

Mine location, if you're wondering (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138867)

Here it is [google.com] , in Mountain Pass, California.

More gold in old phones/computers than in mines (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138899)

The only problem is extracting it. Right now, it makes more sense to mine dirt then it does to shread and melt down all the cellphones and computers and heat distill the molten metals.

Mainly because the mines have single pure metals, as opposed to a mix of all the valuable stuff. heat distilling molten metals is too expensive - today.

A good engineer could very well change that.

Cripes, the main reason we do such a good job of recyclying steel is that it is magnetic.

Re:More gold in old phones/computers than in mines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39139209)

Did you rtfa? The mines don't have single pure metals, they have a mish-mash of lots of different metals. Since the electronics devices are currently recycle (just not in first-world countries), the issues are other that what you describe.

Only source in North America? False. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39138955)

Canada has significant rare earth deposits. They aren't currently active mines because China has much cheaper labour & minimal safety regulations, but if China starts being a jerk about it I'm sure they will return to operation.

perhaps (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#39138997)

there aren't many mines in the rest of the world because its cheaper to exhaust China's deposits first? Doesn't mean you can't get it else where if you need to. I'm pretty sure rare earth mines were shutdown many years ago when China got into the export game, probably wouldn't take much to reopen them

is "hyperbolic fud" redundant? (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139065)

" The mine is the only source of rare earths in North America, one of the only alternatives to the mineral cartels in China, and one of the only sources for the key metals such as tantalum needed in cell phones"

Only, only, only! Oh noes!

As if anyone doesn't already know or understand. The term 'rare' in rare earth doesn't mean rare as in "hard to locate any". It means "rare" in the sense that you'll never find VEINS of it, or nuggets lying around. It exists in many many places, but requires the refining of tons to get ounces.

If China drops the price to compete.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39139131)

then super smart phones will be a lot cheaper... by how much, I don't know.

Canada is most of North America (2)

beckett (27524) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139189)

There's more than one rare earth mine in North America: Hoidas Lake [www.gwmg.ca] in northern Saskachewan, and Strange Lake [www.ctv.ca] in northern Quebec, and Bernic Lake [mbendi.com] in Manitoba.

I guess the US is just lazy or something; lots of rare earths being pulled out of North America already.

Just keep looking (1)

BlueMonk (101716) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139501)

Surely there are some we've just missed -- we just need to dig down to levels 2-16 near the lava and bedrock. And if there's none within walking distance, build nether portals to get far away and find new areas to look. Wow, I've been playing that game too much. I do wonder, though, do they have good ways of locating these in the whole country, or could looking harder really yield some new sites? Is there some super-metal-detector that can find rare earths at any depth anywhere in the country?

Sea Floor (3, Interesting)

rwise2112 (648849) | more than 2 years ago | (#39139503)

On the ocean floor, are large deposits of the stuff Wall Street Journal [wsj.com]
A company called Nautilus Minerals Inc. is planning to begin operations.

The flood gates (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39139531)

This is where capitalism fails, when the intervention of a government dictates everything. You can only fight such abuse with your own abuse (high traffics to ensure alternatives along with international agreements with other countries). It would otherwise be too easy for China to fully control usage of rare earth around the world. These rare earth mining operations take a long time to both setup and become profitable, China needs only to open up it's export policies every few years to basically destroy any normal company. The only other option is government subsidizes to alternatives. Either way, it would require government to fight against government. (An economic resource war in a way).

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