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Rare earths aren’t

I have been following news on China’s supposed near monopoly on rare earth elements for some time now and reports like this one seem to bear out my opinion that things will settle out quickly. There are other projects around the world which can produce these important high technology elements. They have only been kept out of production because the Chinese were selling at prices lower than Western production could support.

So the good news is, we got materials at low prices from the Chinese for years and created new wealth from them. And the other good news is, their attempt to extract a windfall profit is likely to fall on its face. And even better news is that one of the important new mines will be in Nebraska so even if the National Socialist Republic of California pushes prices from the old mines there into a range that keeps them closed, we will still be pulling them out of the ground in one of the Free States.

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13 comments to Rare earths aren’t

  • Tom Dickson-Hunt

    In the long run, we will run out of heavy elements, and that’s not good given that about fifty percent of advanced technology uses them in critical capacities. We need to get asteroid mining.

  • In the long run, we are all dead.

  • Tom Dickson-Hunt

    I believe we’re talking about different lengths of runs.

  • Alsadius

    Tom: If they’re really that valuable in that small a quantity, I expect nuclear alchemy will likely prove a reasonable source of supply.

  • CHK

    We shall never run out of anything.
    Materials, energy, space: The universe is full of them.

  • Corsair

    I’m fascinated by the economic impact that asteroid mining could/will have, but will it ever really be cheaper to get 1kg of refined rareearthium to my door from the asteroid belt than from Nebraska?

    Also, how should we gold-bugs respond to the information that one asteroid contains tonnes of gold?

  • Bruce Hoult

    The thing about anything you don’t actually burn is that you tend to need a fairly constant amount of it per capita at a given level of wealth, and that amount is, generally, getting smaller with time for wealthy people.

    You just don’t destroy steel, aluminum, copper, rare earths etc etc. You only need so much of it, and you can recycle it.

    Oil and gas are another matter.

  • Corsair,
    I’m reminded of the 1980 or so SF novels of Alexis Gilliland about a space habitat in the asteroid belt named Rosinante. In the last one our heroes zone refined an asteroid for the gold and created all sorts of economic mayhem.

  • I’m relieved to hear it.

    I always strongly suspected as much, it’s like all the “peak oil” gibberish or the NIMBY mantra that “Britain is a crowded island”, but hey.

  • Martin Fisher

    Rare earth elements are broadly grouped into ‘heavy’ & ‘light’ – heavies being less frequently occurring than lights. Yes there are REE’s in Nebraska – and all across the Earth’s surface however where they do occur in sufficient % to make exploitation commercially feasible there are hindrances to extraction & processing in terms of capex required to establish a facility. At the present time you’ll be aware that a. China does control 97% of supply b. China is in process of closing down all REE miners which do not meet strict environmental standards & c. Only Lynas in Australia & Molycorp in US are close to production on a commercial scale. Lead-in time & raising of finance can take between 5-10 years and enormous capex to bring product to market – something to bear in mind when considering investing in small speculative junior REE prospectors which do not have take-off/farm-in or jv’s with partner co’s of sufficient size or integration. If however you need any more proof that REE prices will remain high for some long time or that ‘Eco’ applications such as gearless wind turbines, hybrid autos or energy saving light bulbs are going to do anything but ramp-up significantly over coming years you only need to do a Google search.

  • Saxon

    “So the good news is, we got materials at low prices from the Chinese for years and created new wealth from them.”

    I ‘d like to believe the same about oil exploration in the US vs importing from ME – if not, the other explanation is we are crazy!

  • Imagine if it were 200 years ago and one found a remote island that had a massive gold deposit there. To make mining viable, what would be necessary?

    In a word: Warships.

  • Bruce

    Our oriental cousins have been busy on their home turf, but they have also been busy elsewhere.

    Many small specialist exploration and mining operations around the world have been quietly purchased by an assortment of Chinese consortia. This includes a surprising number in the US and Canada.

    If someone succeeds in “vertically integrating” the bulk of a specific and desirable class of product, things will get even more interesting than they are now.