The United States, China, and the quest for rare earth

posted at 1:01 pm on August 24, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

The Obama administration is wildly enthusiastic when it comes to propping up uncompetitive and so-called ‘green’ technologies they they in their wisdom have deemed will be energy sources of the future, and one of the reasons they generally offer for this exercise in asininity is our supposed need to become less reliant on foreign oil. Evidently, however, they feel no such similar desire to make sure that we become less reliant on foreign rare earth elements — the seventeen metallic elements that are essential to the creation of wind turbines, batteries for electric cars, solar cells, as well as cell phones and computers and all kinds of high technology.

Rare earth elements aren’t actually that rare, but the process for mining for and extracting them is currently a relatively energy-intensive, environmentally tricky, and costly practice. The United States maintains some pretty tight restrictions on their domestic production, and there are no substitutes for rare earths at the moment.

China, meanwhile, just happens to have some of the world’s largest known deposits of rare earth elements and hasn’t shied away from taking full advantage of them. They almost completely dominate the global market by contributing more the vast majority of the rare earths supply. There have been multiple dustups through the World Trade Organization over the past few years over China’s supposedly unacceptable trade practices, and while the United States is always keeping a weather eye on the situation and will be the first to complain about market manipulation, we haven’t really done much to streamline our permitting process and safety regulations to boost domestic production, either.

Which is a shame, because we definitely have available resources:

U.S. Rare Earths, Inc., (OTCBB:UREE) announced the results of its 2013 exploration in Lemhi Pass, Montana. The results confirmed that the company’s properties have the highest accessible critical rare earth deposit in North America. The initial results of the sub-surface drilling in Phase I of the Lemhi Pass exploration, not only confirms historic data, but returned higher grades of rare earths than first reported.

The exploration work will allow UREE to adequately assess its land positions and prioritize resource exploration and development efforts. UREE has initiated an extended drilling program in Lemhi Pass, Montana based on the positive results.

The results are part of the detailed work completed in Phase I on the “Last Chance Vein” property located in the southeast part of the trend. This area already has access roads and underground works two adits with tunneling over 1500 feet (453m).

The property, located near the mining-belt of Idaho and Montana is uniquely positioned for development of a processing facility. Full-scale mining and milling operations would create significant and sustainable jobs in the region.

Some increases in production over the past couple of years in the United States and Australia have helped to curb china’s market share somewhat. The Department of Energy is sponsoring a handful of R&D projects looking for potential rare earth substitutes, filing WTO cases is all well and good, I suppose, but the Obama administration could and should be doing more if they want to take full ownership of the alternative technologies that they have so ardently professed are the ways of the future — starting with cleaning up the prohibitively slow and complex permitting process and regulations that discourage companies and investors. I’m aware that lessening the burden of regulations is an endeavor with which President Obama is generally unfamiliar, but there’s been legislation on the table several times during his tenure with no action.


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Mining the earth creates real value, something Obama is dead set against.

Murphy9 on August 24, 2013 at 1:06 PM

Well we all know that Obama will not permit further exploration or mining of these rare materials. Doing so would strengthen the US in the global market and promote the US economy…and we can’t have that now can we.

jaywemm on August 24, 2013 at 1:07 PM

Here’s an idea: try controlling fusion. The math and science are in place. All we need is for technology to catch up.

There is enough potential energy in a glass of sea water to power NYC for a week. And there is no pollution.

Liberalism has many failures. The biggest one is lack of creativity.

Liam on August 24, 2013 at 1:09 PM

Rare Earth? Isn’t that a rock group?

MaiDee on August 24, 2013 at 1:21 PM

Rare Earth? Isn’t that a rock group?

MaiDee on August 24, 2013 at 1:21 PM

Yup.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3Z8NU5ImK0

Liam on August 24, 2013 at 1:22 PM

You’re thinking of Rare Earth, Wind and Fire.
The Global Warming experts demonized them and they’ve pretty much disappeared.

countrybumpkin on August 24, 2013 at 1:42 PM

Here’s an idea: try controlling fusion. The math and science are in place. All we need is for technology to catch up.

Liam on August 24, 2013 at 1:09 PM

Fusion power is the Duke Nukem Forever of science; always promised sometime in the near future.

Maybe someday we’ll FINALLY get it. But for any realistic plan, it’s oil or nuclear (and some new designs at that) or nothing. “Kick their a$$ and take their gas”…IF we have the spine to kick the mongerels and are willing to muzzle the media when they try to drum up sympathy for savages.

MelonCollie on August 24, 2013 at 1:44 PM

Liam on August 24, 2013 at 1:09 PM

The math and science isn’t the problem its the technology. If our nation does self destruct first, and I wouldn’t bet against it, then technology will eventually get there.

chemman on August 24, 2013 at 1:47 PM

IIRC — there are rare earth deposits in central or western Nebraska. I haven’t heard the greenies screaming about rare earth metals being mined in Nebraska so I assume no one has shown any interest in developing those assts.

catsandbooks on August 24, 2013 at 1:54 PM

I recently read somewhere that Australia had approved the purchase of their biggest rare earth mine by China. Now that sounds plain dumb.

mike3121 on August 24, 2013 at 1:57 PM

o/t Nice pictures over at twitchy of a memorial for Shorty in Spokane.

celtic warrior on August 24, 2013 at 2:00 PM

The United States, China, and the quest for rare earth?

Can’t see the problem here. “Get Ready” was their best album…and not at all expensive or hard to find these days, either.

coldwarrior on August 24, 2013 at 2:01 PM

The math and science isn’t the problem its the technology. If our nation does self destruct first, and I wouldn’t bet against it, then technology will eventually get there.

chemman on August 24, 2013 at 1:47 PM

I agree. I’m not a physicist or an engineer, but I believe it’s possible. The hard part is learning how to contain a reaction that occurs at 100 million degrees F.

If we could master that, there would be no more global-warming hysterics. They’d end up finally having to get a real job.

Liam on August 24, 2013 at 2:01 PM

Most Americans seem to be a lot more interested in the quest for Middle Earth these days.

coldwarrior on August 24, 2013 at 2:03 PM

o/t Nice pictures over at twitchy of a memorial for Shorty in Spokane.

celtic warrior on August 24, 2013 at 2:00 PM

Isn’t it racist to bring attention to the white victim of black criminals?

Liam on August 24, 2013 at 2:03 PM

the left wing luddite stench fills the air in the RINO

r keller on August 24, 2013 at 2:17 PM

the left wing luddite stench fills the air in the RINO

r keller on August 24, 2013 at 2:17 PM

Liberals are the ultimate example of the unwashed fornicating masses.

Liam on August 24, 2013 at 2:26 PM

the left wing Luddite stench fills the air in the RINO party…all in the name of being ‘famous’ and hip in the modern times.

FreedomWorks posted this op/ed by former (i.e. very old) RINO EPA heads

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/02/opinion/a-republican-case-for-climate-action.html?_r=0

i guess they got ThinkProgess to write it for them, since it has all the Luddite talking points. I can almost hear Uncle Walters voice intoning The Science is Settled.

IF the GOP wants to start moving to sanity (not likely), they could start by mocking the old senile people who write this s***.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/02/opinion/a-republican-case-for-climate-action.html?_r=0

r keller on August 24, 2013 at 2:30 PM

wow, my fingers seem to going a little too quickly…oh, well…i’ll slow down

r keller on August 24, 2013 at 2:34 PM

Fusion power is the Duke Nukem Forever of science; always promised sometime in the near future.

As is economically competitive solar and wind energy.

agmartin on August 24, 2013 at 2:42 PM

Rare earth elements aren’t actually that rare, but the process for mining for and extracting them is currently a relatively energy-intensive, environmentally tricky, and costly practice.

REEs are relatively common in crustal rocks, but disseminated at low concentrations which makes their extraction non-economic.

Therefore naturally occurring enhanced concentrations are the only economically exploitable deposits.

A lot of REE prices have actually dropped in the last 4 years or so due to ramped up production and manipulation by China as mentioned.

The experience of operator/owners at Mountain Pass, CA are a prime example of federal quashing of possible expanded production at a known world-class REE deposit. Surprised it isn’t featured in this write up.

Additionally there is a big difference in extraction and processing costs between pegmatitic REE and volcanically and hydrothermally hosted REE deposits. Because of higher costs, the pegmatitic types are far more costly, and tend to play out faster at higher grades than the other types.

The Montana locales seem to be related to Mesozoic age thrust faulting and mylonitic zones, but due to complexity of structure, the geologic history of the area is not yet well understood.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on August 24, 2013 at 2:57 PM

There is a simple rule which governs even the most Byzantine regulatory and policymaking processes in this Administration: if it helps the United States in any way, Obama is dead set against it.

Adjoran on August 24, 2013 at 3:23 PM

I’m an old mining company owner; Engineer, geologist and mineralogist.

Within a circle of 100 miles of where I sit at the moment, I know of six significant rare earth deposits. Two of them are definitely of commercially exploitable value at today’s prices. Two of them probably marginal. Two of them unlikely to be profitable unless values double.

But federal regulations and lawsuits by environmentalist ‘watermelons’ and ‘NIMBYs’ make any exploitation impossible.

I guess it is nice to know that ‘it is there if we need it’ if we are ever in the situation that we were in during the Manhattan Project….
But it would be nice if they were adding to the economy and productivity of the nation right now.

LegendHasIt on August 24, 2013 at 3:42 PM

I guess it is nice to know that ‘it is there if we need it’ if we are ever in the situation that we were in during the Manhattan Project….
But it would be nice if they were adding to the economy and productivity of the nation right now.

LegendHasIt on August 24, 2013 at 3:42 PM

I guess you mean if we’re ever back in the 1940s.

DarkCurrent on August 24, 2013 at 4:07 PM

Future world wars will be over and done quickly

DarkCurrent on August 24, 2013 at 4:10 PM

I guess you mean if we’re ever back in the 1940s.
DarkCurrent on August 24, 2013 at 4:07 PM

What do you care what I meant? The nation you have given your allegiance to has all it needs.

LegendHasIt on August 24, 2013 at 4:21 PM

What do you care what I meant? The nation you have given your allegiance to has all it needs.

LegendHasIt on August 24, 2013 at 4:21 PM

It seems you didn’t grasp what I meant with my clumsy sarcasm. My fault.

I meant that in the future, unlike in the 1940s, the USA won’t have a couple of years to prepare to win a major war once it starts, so should be prepared beforehand.

I suppose we agree.

DarkCurrent on August 24, 2013 at 4:40 PM

…so should be prepared beforehand.
DarkCurrent on August 24, 2013 at 4:40 PM

You are right in that respect.

I wasn’t writing of the time frame of the 40s or the strategies of WWII though… I was referring to the type of people, the type of ‘can do’ society we had then, compared to now.

LegendHasIt on August 24, 2013 at 5:04 PM

It seems you didn’t grasp what I meant with my clumsy sarcasm. My fault……..

DarkCurrent on August 24, 2013 at 4:40 PM

…you seem to have a lot of that problem!

KOOLAID2 on August 24, 2013 at 5:34 PM

Fusion power is the Duke Nukem Forever of science; always promised sometime in the near future.

Maybe someday we’ll FINALLY get it. But for any realistic plan, it’s oil or nuclear (and some new designs at that) or nothing. “Kick their a$$ and take their gas”…IF we have the spine to kick the mongerels and are willing to muzzle the media when they try to drum up sympathy for savages.

MelonCollie on August 24, 2013 at 1:44 PM

What about helium 3? I’ve heard it’s just lying around on the moon and a shuttle-bay full would power the US for a year. Of course, first we’d have to have a space program that isn’t about making Muslims feel good about themselves.

Kafir on August 24, 2013 at 6:25 PM

Obama is in the pocket of Big Money. If rare earth minerals become too expensive or impossible to get from China, watch those U.S. companies that can mine rare earth minerals in the U.S. suddenly get “waivers” on the restrictions.

I don’t have a problem with that, as a matter of fact, but Big Money ought to be researching ways to make asteroid mining economically feasible.

RebeccaH on August 24, 2013 at 9:00 PM

What about helium 3? I’ve heard it’s just lying around on the moon and a shuttle-bay full would power the US for a year. Of course, first we’d have to have a space program that isn’t about making Muslims feel good about themselves.

Kafir on August 24, 2013 at 6:25 PM

Let’s get hydrogen fusion working first. We can mine for HE-3 when we have the technology to use it.

Random Numbers (Brian Epps) on August 24, 2013 at 10:58 PM

Talk about “shipping jobs to China”, this is the classic example. It’s great we are making their economy thrive.

djaymick on August 24, 2013 at 11:47 PM