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

TEXT SIZE - +
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

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid