News / Asia

Lack of 'Rare Earth' Minerals Could Cause Major Problems

Toyota Prius hybrid, whose production is dependent upon the availability of 'rare earth' minerals
Toyota Prius hybrid, whose production is dependent upon the availability of 'rare earth' minerals

Multimedia

Audio
  • Ira Mellman speaks with Jeff Green about the rare earth materials

Ira Mellman

Although they deny it, many around the world are saying that the Chinese have curtailed or halted the supply of what are called "rare earth materials" to Japan, in apparent retaliation for Japan's refusal to issue an apology in its dispute with China over a detained fishing boat captain. No matter the reason, the reduction in the supply of these materials could cause major problems not only in Japan, but around the world.

Ira Mellman speaks with Jeff Green about the rare earth materials:

China mines 93 percent of these rare earth materials, which sell for several hundred dollars a pound. Most of the sales are to Japan. Japan then uses these materials to produce products ranging from making glass for solar panels to the motors used by hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius.  

“These are things that some folks in the industry refer to as 'technology metals'," said Jeff Green, a Washington lobbyist trying to coax Congress to make it more affordable for US companies to get back into the mining of these rare earth materials. "These are things that make magnets stronger, make electronics smaller and things move faster, so they are really the next generation of high performance metals. Without these, things like your iPhone wouldn’t be as small as it is and wind turbines wouldn’t produce the power that they do.”

At one time, it was the United States that lead the world in the production of these rare earth materials. But the mines have closed.

Jeff Green says the problem was, and still is the cost of these mining operations. He says the cost of starting such a mining operation now is about half a billion dollars.

Green says there is another reason there is no movement in new mine startups. "The problem in this market is that the Chinese are so dominant that anyone who invests that type of money in the market faces the problem of what the industry saw in the nineties, and that was where a flood of the materials would be dumped on the market, driving the price down, which would upset the economics of those outside of China trying to invest in the system."  So, says Green, it’s really the manipulation of this market by the Chinese that makes this a particularly difficult business to get into.

In Beijing, the government controlled China Daily newspaper reports there are 40 percent cuts in export quotas of the rare earth materials for the second half of this year from last. It quotes a rare earth material expert there as saying the reduced quotas have nothing to do with China's dispute with Japan.

The report says due to the need to keep more of the materials for its own use, the export supply has basically been exhausted, meaning China can't export any not only to Japan but to Europe or the United States either.

Lobbyist Jeff Green says the reduction or elimination of the supply of rare earth material would have a major effect, not only on Japan but on the United States as well.

“Certain defense systems may not have material available. For example, guided missiles, radar, all kinds of defense systems. Really it’s difficult to name a system that doesn’t have some kind of rare earths. We’re very concerned about the supply material to support the building and construction of those systems."

Green adds "It also could have grave economic impacts. If you look at the United States trying to go to a renewable energy standard of 20 percent by 2030, there currently isn’t the rare earth material available to build those wind turbines to help build that economy. So, unless the U.S. comes online, we really can’t ever get to a renewable energy standard set forth by the administration.”

Last week, a US House committee agreed and approved a bill that would, among other things, provide loan guarantees for US companies wishing to start up rare earth material mining. Committee Chairman Bart Gordon said it was essential for the United States to start providing its own rare earth materials.During the Committee's markup hearing, Representative Gordon (D-TN) said “I believe it would be foolish to stake our national defense and our economic security on China’s good will, or hope that it will choose to compete in a fair and open global marketplace for rare earth. The stakes are simply too high.”

The US Defense Department is compiling a report on the national security impact of US dependence on the Chinese provided materials and this week, a Senate committee will probe the issue as well.

You May Like

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

Analysts say move by President Xi is an effort to win more party support, take step toward economic reforms, removing those who would stand in way of change More

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased; legal experts question how some proposed reforms would be implemented More

In Vietnam, Religious Freedoms Violated, UN Finds

Beliefs reportedly prompt heavy surveillance, intimidation and travel restrictions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid