Planet Gore

The ‘Looming’ Rare Earth Elemets Crisis

Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute writes:

During her trip to China this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will talk to Chinese officials about the world’s hottest commodities: rare earth elements.

Over the past few months, industry and government officials in the U.S. and Japan have been increasingly alarmed as China, which has a near-monopoly on rare earths, has reduced its exports of those elements by some 40 percent.  Adding yet more anxiety to the situation are projections about a possible shortfall in the supply of these elements. London-based Roskill Consulting Group, a research firm that specializes in metals and minerals, recently predicted that demand for rare earths could outstrip supply as soon as 2014.  Rare earths are important because they have special features at the quantum mechanics level that allow them to have unique magnetic interactions with other elements. A myriad of “green” technologies –  from electric and hybrid-electric cars to wind turbines and compact fluorescent light bulbs – depend on rare earths. And there are no cost-effective substitutes for them.

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Clinton’s willingness to question China about rare earths is indicative of just how seriously the U.S. is taking the rare earths issue. But it also underscores a fundamental miscalculation by the U.S. and other countries when it comes the reconfiguration of their automotive fleets.

Over the last few years, a growing number of environmentalists and national security hawks have teamed up to denounce America’s dependence on foreign oil. Their solution: all-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles. Those vehicles, they insist, will help the environment while reducing oil imports from countries in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere.

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