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US Gives $120M For Lab To Tackle Rare Earth Shortages

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the making-rare-more-common dept.

China 170

coondoggie writes "With China once again playing games with the rare earth materials it largely holds sway over, the U.S. Department of Energy today said it would set up a research and development hub that will bring together all manner of experts to help address the situation. The DOE awarded $120 million to Ames Laboratory to set up an Energy Innovation Hub that will develop solutions to the domestic shortages of rare earth metals and other materials critical for U.S. energy security, the DOE stated."

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Solution (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42543977)

Just lick butt of mighty China.

Now give me my $120M please.

Re:Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544223)

Nice try 50 cent party.

Maybe they are going to mint the platinum coin (2)

elucido (870205) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544263)

This would explain why they need to get all the precious metal.

Re:Solution (-1, Flamebait)

flyneye (84093) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544333)

I would think a more obvious solution would be to give geologists $120m rather than pulling together a tutti-fruiti mis-mash of scientists for OPINIONS.
Leave it to the Obama administration to throw the money at publicity headlines rather than anything that would actually make an investment of tax dollars.
How do you feel about funding Obamas approval rating? Sounds like he's taking advise from Hillary, " It Takes a Village to Raise an Idiot"
I'm not buying the "all manner of experts" when there is a specific science involved. This is going to draw more attention whores than the Emmys, all looking for a bite of that funding. What a UN kind of move, spend shitloads of money to DISCUSS the problem. Give the Geology boys a shovel and let them go, you moron!

Re:Solution (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544541)

Leave it to the Obama administration to throw the money at publicity headlines rather than anything that would actually make an investment of tax dollars.

Congress is in control of funding, "you moron"!

Re:Solution (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545793)

I'm regularly astounded at how little the US posters know about their own country. The State governments and Congress runs the country. Obama is in control of foreign policy and defence only. He has buggerall to do with the internal affairs of the USA.

Re:Solution (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544907)

The geology is well understood and is not the issue here. What needs to happen is we need to come up with a viable business plan to ensure that when the Chinese are playing games with the supply of rare earths, we have another source we can substitute without years of down time or minting a $1T coin.

Re:Solution (1)

citab (1677284) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545579)

Geology is a form of science. Who says the group being given the money are not made up of at least some geologists.

Re:Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544973)

all this magnetic core on mars...and we mine here.

Viability of ocean mining? (2)

rolfwind (528248) | about a year and a half ago | (#42543993)

I realize it's going to take robots/remote control machines and such but what is the real hurdle to ocean mining because I imagine that there is a lot of unexplored spots in the world and there could be a ton of material in the oceans just waiting for us.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (4, Informative)

CSMoran (1577071) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544007)

what is the real hurdle to ocean mining

The first google hit on "rare earths ocean" says this

Deep-sea mining is an old idea, but one that has yet to prove itself in the face of high costs and environmental concerns. Discovered decades ago, chunks of manganese on the ocean floor and deposits of metals such as zinc and copper in the Red Sea have proven impractical to mine.

“I don’t understand how this can be expected to be an economic way to recover rare earth,” says Daniel Cordier, a mineral commodity specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Minerals Information Center in Reston, Va.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544053)

Surely it has to be more feasible than capturing an asteroid to mine though?

E.g.:
http://tech.slashdot.org/story/12/04/21/229248/billionaires-and-polymaths-expected-to-unveil-a-plan-to-mine-asteroids
http://science.slashdot.org/story/11/08/31/1656237/chinese-want-to-capture-an-asteroid

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (2)

feedayeen (1322473) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544237)

Yes, but nobody is actually seriously considering that option either. Hiring an pundit to think of ideas and write about them doesn't cost much. Actual implementation would require you to cube their salary raising the cost from a few thousand to a few billion.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544353)

Not necessarily. Probably not in the medium term, and in the long term there is no comparison.

The biggest barriers to asteroid mining are the high cost of surface to orbit transit and a lack of orbital infrastructure. When a fully mechanized asteroid capture and processing system makes it past those hurdles, though that may take a while, the price of scaling everything up starts dropping to free:

- There is no superlinear increase in mining cost with increased extraction, since the robots can cherrypick small asteroids that are easy to drill through.

- There's far more of every nonorganic resource out there, in relatively easy reach, than we could possibly need. Even into the fairly distant future.

- Most if not all of the infrastructure will become useful for things other than asteroid mining: Science, space tourism, solar and horticultural farms, manufacturing, colonization, etc. The pressure problem renders this bonus nearly nonexistent for undersea infrastructure.

- Sending mountains of mined ore back down is free. Don't give me that look.

In contrast:

- Anything sent into space only needs to withstand only one to zero atmospheres of pressure, while sea mining requires pressure changes hundreds to thousands of times larger.

- Objects in space are easier to track and can be surveyed by external instruments in the event of system failures.

- Smartly repurposed mining slag from asteroids won't pollute our biosphere the way it might underwater.

- Robots sink to the sea floor, but megatons of heavy ore will have to fight gravity bitterly for every meter to the surface.

And as far as I'm aware, in space there are significantly fewer house-sized monsters with a taste for cable sheathing.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (4, Funny)

mooingyak (720677) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544493)

And as far as I'm aware, in space there are significantly fewer house-sized monsters with a taste for cable sheathing.

You had some good points up until you casually dismissed the stellar kraken.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (1)

SilentStaid (1474575) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545567)

You had some good points up until you casually dismissed the stellar kraken.

Drink!... Dimissing is technically 'releasing,' right?

Orbital mining = WMDs (1)

sjbe (173966) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544951)

The biggest barriers to asteroid mining are the high cost of surface to orbit transit and a lack of orbital infrastructure.

While those are huge barriers the biggest barrier is the fact that returning materials from orbit in any meaningful quantity results in a weapon of mass destruction. Dropping several tons of metal from orbit has the same effect as a nuclear weapon. Do you think Russia or China or the US would be comfortable with regular transit of WMDs in orbit? Even an accident would have very bad consequences.

Sending mountains of mined ore back down is free. Don't give me that look.

Free? Explain to me how you are going to get a 10 ton chunk of iron down from orbit without the huge explosion when it hits the ground. Explain to me how you assure nation states that you really aren't going to drop that chunk of ore on their capital.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (4, Interesting)

balsy2001 (941953) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544253)

The other idea that gets thrown around a lot is to make them in a reactor. I used to work at a DOE facility where every year or so we would be asked about this specific problem and if we couldn't just make X isotope. Sure you can make all kinds of elements through transmutation, but the volume of production is just not very high unless you have massive amounts of infrastructure to create them (lots of reactors specifically for the task) and for most things special chemical facilities to separate all of the various radioactive stuff out (if you put in a specimen X you don't just get 100% of Y after a certain amount of time, and because of special DOE moratoriums it would be nearly impossible to "free release" any of this material for commercial/industrial use). That is why generally speaking it only makes sense to produce a limited number of elements in this manner, usually ones you don't need a lot of and ones you specifically want to be radioactive (there are some medical isotopes and cobalt sources for imaging where this does make sense and is done).

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (2)

todrules (882424) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544313)

Basically, it's just like extracting oil from tar sands. Until very recently it was just not economically viable to get oil that way. However, once the price of oil hit a certain mark, then it was. Ocean mining for minerals is the same way. At the moment, it's not economically viable. At some point in the future, it will be.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544323)

Yeah, this and the other suggestions in the replies are not feasible because rare earths are not rare.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (3, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544049)

Ocean mining is not necessary because there is no particular shortage of rare earth ore. China is not the leader because they have the only rare earths, but because low labor costs made it cheaper to mine them there. Since they began to impose export restriction, rising prices have enabled operations to restart in several mines, including the Mountain Pass Mine [wikipedia.org] in California.

But reducing the need for rare earths is also a good idea, so the research being funded makes sense. However, just handing out grants is the wrong approach . It would be much better to set out the goals and offer specific awards for achieving them. Competitive contests, like the DARPA Grand Challenge [wikipedia.org] , the Ansari X Prize [wikipedia.org] , and the Google Lunar X Prize [wikipedia.org] , have been far more effective at achieving results than grant based funding.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (4, Interesting)

Luckyo (1726890) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544109)

Not so much about cheap labour as it is about less stringent environmental standards. The biggest cost of rare earth mining is keeping it as clean as regulations require and China has large areas which are completely and utterly poisoned by rare earth mining.

That's in fact one of the reasons (and the main official reason) why China is currently restricting rare earth exports. Mining and refining rare earths is a very toxic process.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (2, Insightful)

telchine (719345) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544187)

However, just handing out grants is the wrong approach . It would be much better to set out the goals and offer specific awards for achieving them.

The goal in this case is to obtain materials. And the reward is money. So you're suggesting that we offer money in exchange for rare earth materials. That's called buying it. We do that already and it's expensive. I think funding research is a good idea in this case!

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (5, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544217)

The goal in this case is to obtain materials.

No, that is not the goal. The goal of the research is to reduce or eliminate the need for the rare earth metals.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (2)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544901)

The goal in this case is to obtain materials.

No, that is not the goal. The goal of the research is to reduce or eliminate the need for the rare earth metals.

No, the goal is to get the cost, including externalities, below the utility.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544225)

Grants are not "just handed out". Grants are awarded to the best plan that is submitted.

Also, grants are much better, because they allow many more different types of research to be funded, rather than just the tiny scope of engineering challenges. Yes, each of these engineering challenges is good, and yes they produce results, but that is because engineering lends itself perfectly for such a challenge. The general idea is the same, but the approaches to the problem are different; doing them in parallel and with different teams makes sense, and each contribution is valuable even if they do not win. However, in the case of research, it does not make sense to repeat work several times.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (2, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544465)

Grants are not "just handed out". Grants are awarded to the best plan that is submitted.

Have you ever worked in a research lab? I have. We had two tiers of scientists. The best people were dedicated to the activity that brought in the revenue: writing proposals. The second tier spent their time on less important tasks, like doing research. The primary purpose of the research was to produce non-definitive results that could be used to justify more funding.

During the 1980s and 1990s DARPA poured tens of millions into research on robotics and automated vehicles, all for little effect. Then they offered a small fraction of their previous spending as a monetary prize for a specific result, and the result was rapid and revolutionary progress. Competition works.

The $120 million that DOE is spending on this is sixty times the cost of the DARPA Grand Challenge. Do you really think it is going to be anywhere near as effective?

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544939)

During the 80s and 90s that sort of computer power was barely possible to create. The money DARPA spent on those automated vehicles and other projects for AI and computer vision are why later competitions could even be held.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (4, Insightful)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544249)

China is not the leader because they have the only rare earths, but because low labor costs made it cheaper to mine them there.

It's a mixture of several things:
* low labour costs
* lax safety standards
* lax environmental standards
* goverment subsidy plus dumping to put everyone else out of business

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (0)

rally2xs (1093023) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544659)

Its not low labor costs. Its US income tax rates, that were, BTW, just raised again. You can't expect to come tromping into US companies with your tax handgun drawn and leave with 44% of their profits and have them survive international competition.

The solution? Repeal absolutely ALL the income taxes, every one including corporate, individual, self-employment, capital gains, inheritance, gift, alternative minimum, social security, medicare, every one of them, and the 16th Amendment, and instead pass the Fair Tax, a tax on retail goods and services for sale. That'll set the foreigners back on their heels, as US industry loses a whale of a lot of cost in their operations, and the foreigners don't. We can mine our own rare earths, if the gov't would just get the H out of the way...

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (1)

the gnat (153162) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545089)

You can't expect to come tromping into US companies with your tax handgun drawn and leave with 44% of their profits and have them survive international competition.

Which is why, when the government decides some essential industry is too important to leave to the Chinese, they traditionally offer huge tax breaks to the domestic producers. Problem solved. It's been done many times before, and surely will be in the future; this is no different. (I'm ignoring the obvious avenues for corruption, which are indeed serious, and if I were going to design my ideal fantasy system it would probably have no corporate income tax at all, but it's simply obtuse to pretend that the default corporate income tax rate is an absolute barrier.)

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (0)

rally2xs (1093023) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545823)

Read everything you can about The Fair Tax. If we passed the Fair Tax, we would supercharge our economy, full employment would be achieved probably within 2 years, and we would be the #1 economic engine on the planet. Prosperity would be restored, and we could accept immigrants to any extent we wanted, because we would be able to put all of them to work in a revitalized manufacturing industry. They try to say that there's no silver bullet, but there is, and it is the Fair Tax.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (0, Offtopic)

burisch_research (1095299) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544111)

Posting to undo accidental mod.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544319)

We're rare,
So there,
Get used to it.

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544497)

I realize it's going to take robots/remote control machines and such but what is the real hurdle to ocean mining because I imagine that there is a lot of unexplored spots in the world and there could be a ton of material in the oceans just waiting for us.

best bet would actually be to mine landfills right now.

\

Re:Viability of ocean mining? (1)

turkeyfeathers (843622) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544897)

The only hurdle to successfully mining the ocean floor is that James Cameron hasn't decided to do it yet.

Politics (2, Insightful)

DaMattster (977781) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544047)

It's about high time that we have bipartisan support for energy independence. It's time for both political parties to pull their thumbs out of their collective arses and get it done!

Re:Politics (3, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544083)

It's about high time that we have bipartisan support for energy independence. It's time for both political parties to pull their thumbs out of their collective arses and get it done!

It is being done. The USA is already self-sufficient in natural gas, and falling gas prices are causing gas to displace coal for electricity generation. Fracking technology, developed for gas, is now being applied to oil, with very successful results. By 2020 the USA is expected to surpass Saudi Arabia as the biggest oil producer in the world. All of this is because US politicians have done something that they have so often failed to do in the past: stay out of the way.

Re:Politics (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544343)

Biggest oil (or even energy) producer != Energy independence

We are so wasteful and inefficient that being #1 doesn't solve our problem since we're at or near #1 in consumption, waste and any other category you can think of.

Re:Politics (1)

tmosley (996283) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545401)

Yes, those two aren't equal. That doesn't mean that we aren't going to be both things, however.

Of course, one of the easier ways to solve the Rar Earth Shortage would be to develop thorium technology. Not only would it provide the energy needed to mine and process the metals, it would create a use for what is currently a big stumbling block to rare earth production--contamination with thorium, which is mostly just a costly contaminant with few uses.

Re:Politics (1)

gewalker (57809) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545543)

Using thorium is not even necessary for rare earth's to be feasible. All you have to do is change the regulations that make you treat it as horrible toxic waste. With a half-life of 14 billion years, it is so weakly radioactive (and alpha and beta emitters in the decay chain to boot) that the current regulations are asinine.

Thorium is just about everywhere, yet somehow it is not horribly toxic until it mined.

Re:Politics (5, Interesting)

turp182 (1020263) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544479)

I agree on all points but that of oil. Fracking depends on high oil prices, otherwise it isn't economically viable (don't expect the price of gas or oil to come down). As well, those fracked wells show much faster production declines than traditional oil wells, on an individual basis they decline pretty fast. Environmental concerns are also pretty big, may as well be mining rare earths...

For more info regarding fracking and the "more oil than Saudi Arabia" propaganda (at best that's what it is, at worst it is completely uninformed...), this article goes over the basics:
http://www.theoildrum.com/node/9753 [theoildrum.com]

The Oil Drum has many other more detailed articles as well.

Re:Politics (1)

tmosley (996283) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545433)

FYI, the Oil Drum is full of Malthusian fools who have done nothing but cry "PEAK OIL!" since day one.

Re:Politics (2)

turp182 (1020263) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545617)

It's actually mostly science these days. Check out the headlines on the front page. There are several energy experts and drilling specialists (who are in the know with regards to old technology like fracking, it's been around for decades by the way) on the site. The Drumbeats can be "Malthusian" as you say, but they are supposed to be open forum discussions (good info on LED lights, insulation, you name it).

And they don't cry "PEAK OIL" anymore. They mostly point out that energy prices cannot decline as the production methods being applied more and more these days aren't economically viable if the price of oil drops (fracking). And that these methods result in wells that decline fast and pollute.

Do you consider oil to be an infinite resource? If not, when do you think production costs will become prohibitive for a large swath of the Earth's population to afford (excluding Africa, they are already mostly priced out)? That's what they discuss these days.

Re:Politics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544105)

Ha! You actually think the reason they don't come to an agreement is because of partisanship? The two party system is really a one party system where they use the illusion of partisanship to keep their hands in your pockets without you disobeying or questioning their motives. Both "sides" of the great partisan debate are making money hand over fist, all the while they're talking out of one side of their mouth claiming that they're going all they can for the citizens while using the other side of their mouth to suck the life out of anything that would challenge their position of power.
 
As so many here shout; follow the money. They're both paid well by the same sources to keep things the way they are. And before anyone blames the evil corporations for this just remember that you can't buy what isn't being sold.

Re:Politics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544317)

This story has nothing to do with energy independence.

Alchemy! (2)

Alex Belits (437) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544079)

What? It's less idiotic than some things American politicians do.

Transmutation can be done (1)

Moabz (1480009) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544693)

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries reported transmutation of Cs to Pr at low energies, it was presented at a CERN colloquium last year.

http://indico.cern.ch/getFile.py/access?resId=5&materialId=slides&confId=177379 [indico.cern.ch]

Toyota has replicated the experiment.

It was also presented at the American Nuclear Society's winter meeting in Nov 2012:

"Replication experiments have been performed in some universities or institutes mainly in Japan. T.Higashiyama et al. of Osaka University observed transmutation of Cs into Pr in 2003[7]. H.Yamada et al. performed similar experiments using Cs and detected increase of mass number 137 by TOF-SIMS. They used a couple of nano-structured Pd multilayer thin film and observed the increase of mass number 141 (corresponding to Pr) only when 133Cs was given on the Pd sample [8]. N. Takhashi et al., the researchers of Toyota Central R&D Labs, presented that they detected Pr from the permeated Pd sample using SOR x-ray at Spring-8 and the detected Pr was confirmed by ICP-MS and TOF-SIMS [8]."

http://newenergytimes.com/v2/conferences/2012/ANS2012W/2012Iwamura-ANS-LENR-Paper.pdf [newenergytimes.com]

Re:Transmutation can be done (1)

the gnat (153162) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545143)

Hell, transmutation has been done for decades - it's one of the things the DOE is really good at (since I believe it was invented at what is now Berkeley Lab). You just need an accelerator suitable for heavy ions (really just a beefy, room-sized cyclotron), which are smashed into something else heavy at high energies. Most of the known transuranic elements were created this way. The problem is that it's horrifically inefficient - it's mostly just a scientific tool, used to study elements/isotopes that don't exist in nature and aren't stable for any useful length of time anyway.

i hope they succeed (5, Insightful)

mov_eax_eax (906912) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544089)

today works like this: bribe local authoritites and enslave miners in third world countries while destroying the environment, then let criminal organizations export them back to the us, like the blood diamonds; there is a huge black market out there.

Well funded R&D can bring us amazing advancements, I only hope this project succeeds and stops the illegal mining and the black market in the same vein of the synthetic latex.

Shovels? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544095)

Have they considered digging it up? American rare earth production didn't stop because it ran out, it just became less profitable than competing with China.

Somebody didn't get the memo! (5, Interesting)

flightmaker (1844046) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544101)

According to an article in Popular Mechanics (page 60, January 2013 issue) a company called Molycorp is running a re-opened rare earth mine in the Mojave Desert, forecasting "By mid 2013 the mine will have the capacity to produce 40,000 metric tons anually".

Re:Somebody didn't get the memo! (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544825)

But for how many years?

Since it's a mine there has to be a finite amount. What happens when THAT runs out?

Re:Somebody didn't get the memo! (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545085)

But for how many years?

Since it's a mine there has to be a finite amount. What happens when THAT runs out?

Oil and coal are biological in origin, and thus only located close to the surface, and can be "used up". But rare earths, and other non-biological ores, are not "used up" in the same way, because you can always just dig deeper. The cost may go up, but there is no reason to believe we will ever run out of ore.

Re:Somebody didn't get the memo! (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545537)

But for how many years?

Since it's a mine there has to be a finite amount. What happens when THAT runs out?

Oil and coal are biological in origin, and thus only located close to the surface, and can be "used up". But rare earths, and other non-biological ores, are not "used up" in the same way, because you can always just dig deeper. The cost may go up, but there is no reason to believe we will ever run out of ore.

Are you sure you don't have that backwards?

Biological means that, EVENTUALLY, it's renewable. Even if it means waiting hundreds of years, thousands, or even millions... eventually biological processes will create more. Dead carbon becoming coal, oil, whatever.

WITHOUT RECYCLING... digging up non-biological ores means you'd eventually run out. Sure, the amount of MetalX is probably great enough that if you knew where to dig it would take many many lifetimes to use up. But eventually, you WOULD use it up.

And prior to that hypothetical time... you'd also reach a point that you'd be spending more resources to mine that ore than it would make it feasible. Imagine if you use up everything easily obtainable in the next 200 years... and you find the rest of the veins are 20miles underground. Well, it's not just a matter of it "costing money" more to get there. Good luck getting down there to mine since the furthest we've ever drilled is like 10miles with a narrow drill bit.

Re:Somebody didn't get the memo! (1)

tmosley (996283) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545461)

Rare earths aren't actually rare. It will be a few thousand years before we run out, and recycling will come into play a long time before that.

Re:Somebody didn't get the memo! (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545169)

Hopefully that will help their stock price out.

I went full retard on that stock a while back.

What about mining your own stuff ? (3, Interesting)

MACC (21597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544103)

The US has sufficient resources.
see:
        http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/rare_earths/mcs-2012-raree.pdf [usgs.gov]

Political interest actually is about getting _cheap_ access to china's resources.

Re:What about mining your own stuff ? (3, Insightful)

Luckyo (1726890) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544121)

Political interest is also about not having to restart highly toxic rare earth mining at home with all the consequences that it brings.

Re:What about mining your own stuff ? (2)

MACC (21597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544137)

Political interest is also about not having to restart highly toxic rare earth mining at home with all the consequences that it brings.

But China should bear the consequences without compensation or limitation?
The US has ofloaded/ofshored significant elements of it's Carbon Footprint to China already.
 

Re:What about mining your own stuff ? (2)

sound+vision (884283) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544159)

Carbon footprint is one thing, and that has global consequences. But the bigger toxicity of heavy metal mines and refining is from the *material itself*, and that contamination is more local. That is, if it's made in China, it stays (more) in China.

Re:What about mining your own stuff ? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544245)

Oh My God, a Carbon Footprint! Why didn't you wipe your feet on the mat before coming in?

Got any more bullshit buzzwords you can through around?

What a pompous asshole...

Rare Earth Shortage, you say? (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544119)

It's true the Earth is very rare, but only because it keeps getting destroyed, thus the new Young Earth is always a little under-done -- Nothing a bit of Global Warming won't fix... Where was I? Oh, Shortage, right: The answer is quite simple, grant human rights to the Dolphins and ask them if they'll build you another one! Then you just have to make a formal complaint to the intergalactic zoning commission to prevent the hyperspace expressway before the Vogons get here... Blam! Just doubled your natural resources! (and my CPU power)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a few mazes to run before I get back to removing the labels (and your memories) of the most important button on everyone's keyboards. I mean, look at it. It's the biggest one, and it's Blank?! Ha! Soon no one will be able to remember how it's used to locate the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, thus I'll have saved the Universe too! It's taking longer than I thought since many folks have retained a vague recollection of that unforgettable place and started re-labeling the key: "Space Bar"

here, save about $120e6 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544127)

possible solutions:

1. invade china
2. ask the UN to sanction china
3. ask the UN to write them a harshly worded letter
4. mine for our own resources
5. recycle existing rare earth stockpiles (aka your local landfill)

Re:here, save about $120e6 (1)

MACC (21597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544189)

too many options ( for politicks ).
Who can count beyond three ;-?

Machiavelli, paraphrased:
        "soldiers can always bring you rare earth"

Re:here, save about $120e6 (1)

jamesh (87723) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544227)

5. recycle existing rare earth stockpiles (aka your local landfill)

Don't you offshore that rubbish somewhere already? And isn't it to China?

Re:here, save about $120e6 (1)

tibman (623933) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545519)

We make mountains out of it, cover it with a thin layer of grass, and harvest the delicious fumes : )

Re:here, save about $120e6 (1)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544329)

possible solutions:

1. invade china 2. ask the UN to sanction china 3. ask the UN to write them a harshly worded letter 4. mine for our own resources 5. recycle existing rare earth stockpiles (aka your local landfill)

May I add... 6. Worldwide cooperation in the exploration / exploitation of nearby asteroids. One side benefit being: No need to conquer / control other lands & its people for their earth resources.

Transmutation can be done (1)

Moabz (1480009) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544179)

Ames lab knows how to perform low energy nuclear transmutations. There was a presentation at CERN last year showing that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries got positive results of transmuting Cs into Pr (Praseodymium is a rare earth element). Recently Hitach has reproduced these results. "advanced batteries" and "alloy formulations" sound good enough to dedicate some of the money to LENR related research.

Re:Transmutation can be done (1)

Moabz (1480009) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544209)

The Mitsubishi and Hitachi results were shown at the American Nuclear Society's winter meeting on 14 Nov in San Diego.

Re:Transmutation can be done (1)

balsy2001 (941953) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544327)

It has never been a question of whether it CAN be done. The question is whether it is practical or not and cost effective. The problems are: 1) reactor capacity (output of material), 2) radioactivity, 3) enrichment of the resulting material. Running reactors, enrichment facilities, and chemical processing plants for radioactive materials is not cheap. This is done by the INL (listed in the article as a partner) at the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR). They are the US's only source of cobalt 60 and used to make some other medical isotopes (not sure if they still do, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Test_Reactor [wikipedia.org] ). The material/sources they make are used as is with none of the other processing and are wanted specifically because of the radioactivity. The INL regularly addresses this question from the DOE. This isn't for anything you need in large industrial volumes. I don't think they should spend and of the $120M for this type of research at this point., but I won't be surprised if they spend some on it.

Re:Transmutation can be done (2)

Moabz (1480009) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544585)

I am talking about a very different technology to produce the transmutations.

Mitsubishi made experiments which showed that Cs can be transmuted into Pr at low energies. The results were presented at a CERN colloquium last year http://indico.cern.ch/getFile.py/access?resId=5&materialId=slides&confId=177379 [indico.cern.ch]

Recenty Toyota (not Hitachi, my mistake) replicated the results, this was presented at the ANS winter meeting:

"Replication experiments have been performed in some universities or institutes mainly in Japan. T.Higashiyama et al. of Osaka University observed transmutation of Cs into Pr in 2003[7]. H.Yamada et al. performed similar experiments using Cs and detected increase of mass number 137 by TOF-SIMS. They used a couple of nano-structured Pd multilayer thin film and observed the increase of mass number 141 (corresponding to Pr) only when 133Cs was given on the Pd sample [8]. N. Takhashi et al., the researchers of Toyota Central R&D Labs, presented that they detected Pr from the permeated Pd sample using SOR x-ray at Spring-8 and the detected Pr was confirmed by ICP-MS and TOF-SIMS [8]."

http://newenergytimes.com/v2/conferences/2012/ANS2012W/2012Iwamura-ANS-LENR-Paper.pdf [newenergytimes.com]

Re:Transmutation can be done (1)

balsy2001 (941953) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544823)

Mod up and the earlier post by same person. Very interesting and definitely different than what I was talking about. Thanks for the informative read. Well, that removes the need for a reactor. I couldn't tell if there was any induced radioactivity of the substrate materials involved, so that may still be an issue. It also seems like enrichment and volume production could be issues. It kind of sucks that they are making the substrates using palladium and platinum as main ingredients. It does seem that they have some insight into how determine what isotopes may be feasible to transmute in this manner. That would be worth some research money. Even if this isn't a solution for large scale production it is cool and worth some funding. I stand corrected.

Economic formula: (1)

lexa1979 (2020026) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544219)

1st: declare there's a shortage of some sort, scare people telling them there's not even enough of that resource for healthcare (but forget to mention there's plenty for money-producing-industries) -- 2nd: give some millions bucks to your friends to "look for solutions" -- 3rd: go on vacation with some of the $$ your friends give you back under the table

Shortage? You mean excessive waste. (3, Insightful)

Sait-kun (922599) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544251)

Instead of finding even more ways to strip the earth of all useful materials they should be investing in recycling used materials.

There are literally millions if not billions (in both weight/tons and in value) of rare earth materials in thrown away products around the world.

They should be investing in developing technologies to recycle old products and re-use as many of the materials as possible and not just the rare ones either as materials that are a plenty now will become rare if we continue to use and throw them away.

Re:Shortage? You mean excessive waste. (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544387)

Your cognitive dissonance is staggering. If we can reclaim rare earths through recycling (which is true), it really doesn't matter if we "run out" of initial extraction possibilities (which is nowhere even near the horizon). Reclamation can happen at any time, and it will happen precisely when all things happen, when it makes more logistical sense to reclaim than extract.

Re:Shortage? You mean excessive waste. (2)

ledow (319597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544499)

Good luck trawling through a motherboard (even a pristine, fully-working, but obsolete motherboard handed to you for nothing) and finding the rare-earths and extracting them back to a form, purity and volume that suppliers would take them from you to put back into products.

You're literally assuming that it's like gold, or iron - just melt it down, scrape off the top and sell what's left. What if those rare-earths are modified to be part of a compound, fine nanostructure, device, etc.? It would literally take more energy to pull them out and back into a useable format than the entire thing cost to dig from a dwindling ore supply and make in the first place.

You know what happens to more household waste put into a recycling bin in the UK (as exposed by various TV investigations)? It's shipped abroad and buried in landfill, if it even makes it that far. That's literally things like plastics and glass which are quite "easy" (relatively speaking) to separate, purify, reform, etc.

Just how do you expect to reclaim the yttrium, say, from LED's in TV sets? Do you realise just what a percentage they make up and how spread out they are in even the largest of TV's?

And if you know the model PERFECTLY and get every ounce of them back out, you're likely to end up requiring MILLIONS of devices to get it back to a saleable amount (not to mention it's poisonous to lungs, which adds whole new costs to its extraction and handling). But it's also the 28th most abundant element in the Earth's crust (so "rare earths" isn't what you might think). It's even difficult to separate from its own raw form, let alone reclaiming it - and there's probably more in your spleen now than in a TV sent to recycling.

Recycling a material only makes sense when you can do so repeatedly (otherwise you end up making more and more concentrated rubbish), consistently and more cheaply than getting the original source. And all the things we routinely recycle we can do because of VOLUME. We dispose of millions of tons of paper or glass or plastic every year, and though it's not perfect or saleable in that form we dispose it, it takes little to make it so (in fact, collection is probably the greatest expense because of the volume it's available in).

Rare earth recycling is pretty much pointless until it becomes, quite literally, like gold-dust. It has to be worth enough that someone just grabbing a couple of motherboards or old TV's off a scrapheap would be paid enough for their efforts through a resale price that makes it worthwhile. You can literally make a living scouring gold and platinum and even iron from junk and selling it on in volume. Doing so with rare earths is CENTURIES away, for even the rarest.

Re:Shortage? You mean excessive waste. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544653)

"consistently and more cheaply than getting the original source" don't you think, that when it will be cheaper to recycle it, it will be too late to repair devastation that was caused by mining ( just because it was cheaper to mine it )

Re:Shortage? You mean excessive waste. (1)

ledow (319597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545107)

You think that pure ore wouldn't be needed even if we started recycling? The damage will be done anyway. In a way, better to get it over with.

The normal process is "almost exhaust supply", "require alternatives", "find way to recycle old supply in meantime", "exhaust supply while transitioning".

Re:Shortage? You mean excessive waste. (1)

tmosley (996283) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545535)

Yes, because the Mojave Desert is just TEEMING with life. Fragile, easily destroyable life.

Re:Shortage? You mean excessive waste. (1)

tmosley (996283) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545493)

You think recycling is free? You think recycling doesn't pollute?

Might want to think a bit on that.

US-centric much? (1)

boundary (1226600) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544275)

How dare China play games with its own resources? And to the detriment of 'merica! Bad yellow peril! What a horrible, US-centric article!

Re:US-centric much? (0)

just_common_sense (2485226) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545393)

So do you also think it's OK for a company to abuse its monopoly power?

And no video on this ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544283)

Fortunately I have one : Video [youtube.com]

A sure-fire plan (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544341)

1. Buy $120m of rare-earth materials.
2. ???
3. Profit!

Step 2 could be as simple as 'wait'.

They're NOT RARE (4, Informative)

argStyopa (232550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544395)

From TFA:
"...CMI specifically plans to organize its efforts in four mutually supporting focus areas:
Diversify Supply
Develop Substitutes
Improve Reuse and Recycling
Conduct Crosscutting Research ..."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Rare Earths aren't really rare in the sense of scarcity - they're about as common as lead or tin. They're "rare" in the sense that they're not found in veins or nuggets, they're found only by processing large quantities of materials (a usually complicated and toxic process that the US has largely farmed out to China because China's far more tolerant of environmental pollution). the article asserts that China controls 95% of the supplies of rare earths - I presume this means they currently produce 95% of the world's production, NOT that they sit on 95% of the world's reserves; two entirely different situations.

So aside from perhaps the first subject peripherally, as far as I can tell none of these points tries to substantively address that MAIN barrier to our 'supply' of "rare earths": regulatory reform to allow US firms to compete economically and viably with Chinese rare earth recovery companies. There must be an economic motivation if so many countries are nervous about China's lock on the processing capability, certainly?

Re:They're NOT RARE (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544509)

All valid points. China only holds the majority on processing capability because nobody else capable wanted it (regulations = we don't want this). Maybe addressing the reasons why somebody would choose to not want this particular capability might be deemed as "moving forward", instead of rolling back regulations to medieval times in order to gain competitiveness back.

The answer is simple... (1)

jonwil (467024) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544413)

If these minerals are so vital to the nation (and possibly even important to national security because of their uses in military technology etc) just offer whatever subsidies are necessary to make it viable for mining companies to mine and process the deposits that the US has on its own soil.

You could also introduce tariffs on the import of minerals from foreign countries.

There is precedent here, the US does exactly this (subsidize domestic production, tax foreign imports) for a number of agricultural commodities (sugar being one)

Simple solution (2)

Muad'Dave (255648) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544481)

Simple, non-technical solution: Refuse to rely on a foreign source for materials deemed critical to the nation. Maintain your own production capability even when buying a cheaper foreign product (and stockpile if you must), but don't let your domestic production capability falter.

Why not manage the recycling process as well (2)

Tangential (266113) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544505)

Seems like step number one is to stop sending anything with rare earths to Asia to be recycled.

Step 2 would be to try and attract foreign components containing rare earths here to be recycled. If its that important bite the bullet on not-cheap labor and other environmental issues (and develop better processes for doing it.)

At the same time of course, turn the geologists loose to find more.

Rare Earth Metals... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42544783)

...also known as "Common Asteroid Metals".

Afghanistan - Follow The Money (1)

RudyHartmann (1032120) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544861)

The older I get, the harder it gets to fight off becoming a cynical old coot. I have wondered why the USA is militarily involved in a country like Afghanistan. On the surface it does not appear to have anything in the national interest. Sure there were some terrorist training camps there. From the sparse media coverage of this war, the country appears to be run by 7th century goat herders. The drone war has been flattening those bases and the bad guys over there for a while though. What has been peculiar is this:

Why do we have boots on the ground when drones are working so well?
Why are we spending so much effort at "Nation Building".

Well well well. It appears there is a huge deposit of rare earths that were discovered by some of our geologists. Try Googling "rare earths Afganistan". Some reports claim a trillion dollar cache of the stuff has been discovered. I suspect there maybe a larger deposit than that. Check out just this one article.

http://www.livescience.com/16315-rare-earth-elements-afghanistan.html [livescience.com]

Me cynical? Naaaa.

Re:Afghanistan - Follow The Money (1)

tibman (623933) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545655)

I think the idea behind surveying Afghanistan was to find their citizens another way to make money. Growing drugs seems to be a dangerous way of life. I'm sure some American companies would love to move in and start mining, but that's not likely to happen.

Here's my suggestion, where are my $120M? (4, Informative)

Ihlosi (895663) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544895)

Just reopen the mines that were deemed unprofitable when China still flooded the market with "dirt cheap" rare earth metals.

Really. There's no actual shortage of the stuff. There's just a shortage of mines that produce them cheaper than China did back then. Market prices rise? Well, I guess those old unused mines might become profitable again.

Have they read Fallout lore? (1)

theRunicBard (2662581) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544931)

It pretty much lists everything America and China need to do in the next 100 years.

$120M for tackling shortages? (1)

MatrixCubed (583402) | about a year and a half ago | (#42544949)

What do they pay if you pile-driver a midget?

The solution: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42545177)

Step 1: Pay other nations to dig up their rare metals/minerals and sell them to the USA.
Step 2: Hoard all of those rare metals/minerals.
Step 3: Wait for other nations to run out of their rare metals/minerals.
Step 4: ???
Step 5: Profit.

Master Blaster Run Bartertown (1)

tekrat (242117) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545541)

So, here's the conversation between President Obama and the Chinese Prime Minister....

Obama: What happened to the rare earths?
CPM: Who run Bartertown?
Obama: We don't have time to play this game. Turn up the rare earths.
CPM: WHO RUN BARTERTOWN.
Obama: I'm not playing this.
CPM: Embargo. Embargo!
Obama: (heavy sigh)... Ok ok... Master Blaster run Bartertown.
CPM; Embargo.... Lifted!

Here is a thought (4, Insightful)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year and a half ago | (#42545571)

Here is a thought. The US is a capitalistic society. Why is the government funding this? If there is a resource shortage, isn't the private sector the solution? Or is it that the private sector is only the solution once all the hard stuff has been paid for by the taxpayer?

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