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 On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid