Strategic minerals – Our next energy and security crisis?

Foreword:

America has had its share of oil-centered energy problems and disruptions. Now it faces potential renewable energy and high technology crises, because of its heavy reliance on imports of the rare earth and other strategic minerals that are the essential building blocks for wind turbines, solar panels, computers, smart phones, medical diagnostic devices, night vision goggles, GPS and communication systems, long-life batteries and countless other applications.

The White House and Trump Administration recently launched initiatives designed to ensure access to up-to-date information on potential US and other alternative sources – and to finding safe and environmentally sound ways to find, mine, reprocess and recycle critical minerals. The goal is to emphasize sources that are less likely to come from unfriendly nations, less likely to face disruption … especially from domestic mining.

It will be interesting to see which legislators, regulators and activist groups support these important programs – and which ones oppose them and other efforts to safeguard our current and future defense, security, economic, living standards and sustainability needs.


Our next energy and security crisis?

Importing 65% of US oil in 2005 vs 100% of many key minerals now (from China and Russia)

Guest opinion by Paul Driessen

Oil and natural gas aren’t just fuels. They supply building blocks for pharmaceuticals; plastics in vehicle bodies, athletic helmets, and numerous other products; and complex composites in solar panels and wind turbine blades and nacelles. The USA was importing 65% of its petroleum in 2005, creating serious national security concerns. But fracking helped cut imports to 40% and the US now exports oil and gas.

Today’s vital raw materials foundation also includes exotic minerals like gallium, germanium, rare earth elements and platinum group metals. For the USA, they are “critical” because they are required in thousands of applications; they become “strategic” when we don’t produce them in the United States.

They are essential for computers, medical imaging and diagnostic devices, night vision goggles, GPS and communication systems, television display panels, smart phones, jet engines, light-emitting diodes, refinery catalysts and catalytic converters, wind turbines, solar panels, long-life batteries and countless other applications. In 1954, the USA imported 100% of just eight vital minerals; in 1984, only eleven.

Today, in this technology-dominated world, the United States imports up to 100% of 35 far more critical materials. Twenty of them come 100% from China, others from Russia, and others indirectly from places where child labor, worker safety, human rights and environmental standards are nonexistent.

The situation is untenable and unsustainable. Literally every sector of the US economy, the nation’s defense, its energy and employment base, its living standards – all are dependent on sources, supply chains and transportation routes that are vulnerable to disruption under multiple scenarios.

Recognizing this, President Trump recently issued an executive order stating that federal policies would henceforth focus on reducing these vulnerabilities, in part by requiring that government agencies coordinate in publishing an updated analysis of critical nonfuel minerals; ensuring that the private sector have electronic access to up-to-date information on potential US and other alternative sources; and finding safe and environmentally sound ways to find, mine, reprocess and recycle critical minerals – emphasizing sources that are less likely to come from unfriendly nations, less likely to face disruption.

Rare Earth Element Production: This chart shows a history of rare earth element production, in metric tons of rare earth oxide equivalent, between 1950 and 2016. It clearly shows the United States’ entry into the market in the mid-1960s when color television exploded demand. When China began selling rare earths at very low prices in the late-1980s and early-1990s, mines in the United States were forced to close because they could no longer make a profit. When China cut exports in 2010, rare earth prices skyrocketed. That motivated new production in the United States, Australia, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries. In 2016, rare earth production in the United States stopped as the only remaining mine was put on care and maintenance. Image from Geology.com click image for full story.

The order also requires that agencies prepare a detailed report on long-term strategies for reducing US reliance on critical minerals, assessing recycling and reprocessing progress, creating accessible maps of potentially mineralized areas, supporting private sector mineral exploration, and streamlining regulatory and permitting processes for finding, producing and processing domestic sources of these minerals.

Incredibly, the last report on critical minerals and availability issues was written in 1973, the year the first mobile telephone call was made. That inexcusable 45 years of neglect by multiple administrations and congresses dates back to the era of “revolutionary” Selectric typewriters and includes the appearance of desktop computers in 1975 and the first PC in 1981. (That PC had a whopping 16 KB of memory!)

As former geologist, Navy SEAL and military commander – and now Secretary of the Interior – Ryan Zinke has observed, allowing our nation to become so heavily “reliant on foreign nations, including our competitors and adversaries,” for so many strategic minerals “is deeply troubling.”

It’s actually far worse than “troubling” or “neglectful.” It involved a concerted, irresponsible, ill-considered effort to place hundreds of millions of acres in wilderness, wilderness study and other highly restrictive land use categories – often with the very deliberate intention of making their mineral prospects off limits, before anyone could assess the areas’ critical, strategic and other mineral potential.

The 1964 Wilderness Act had contemplated the preservation of a few million or tens of millions of acres of wild and primitive areas and natural habitats. To ensure informed land use decisions and access to vital mineral resources, Congress included “special provisions” that allowed prospecting and other activities in potential and designated wilderness areas – and required surveys by the US Geological Survey “on a planned, recurring basis,” to gather information about mineral or other resources – if such activities are carried out “in a manner compatible with the preservation of the wilderness environment.”

In 1978, while hiking with him, I asked then Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Rupert Cutler how he could defend ignoring this clear statutory language and prohibiting all prospecting, surveys and other assessment work in wilderness and study areas. “I don’t think Congress should have enacted those provisions,” he replied, “so I’m not going to follow them.”

As of 1994, when geologist Courtland Lee and I prepared a detailed analysis, areas equal to Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming combined (427 million acres) were off limits to mineral exploration and development. The situation is far worse today – and because of processes unleashed by plate tectonic, volcanic and other geologic forces, these mountain, desert and other lands contain some of the most highly mineralized rock formations in North America, or even the entire world.

The deck was stacked: for wilderness, and against minerals and national security. This must not continue.

These areas must be surveyed and explored by government agencies and private sector companies. The needs of current and future generations are at stake. Failure to conduct systematic evaluations violates the most fundamental principles of national defense, national security and responsible government.

The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior should follow the special provisions of the Wilderness Act; abolish, modify or grant exceptions to existing motorized access restrictions; and ensure that areas are evaluated using airborne magnetic and other analytical equipment, assay gear carried in backpacks, truck-mounted and helicopter-borne drilling and coring rigs, and other sophisticated modern technologies.

This approach also complies with environmental and sustainability principles. It ensures that we can get vital strategic minerals from world class deposits on small tracts of land, instead of having to mine and process vast quantities of low quality ores. That protects most of our wild, scenic and wildlife areas – and modern techniques can then restore affected areas to natural conditions and high quality habitats.

Even ardent environmentalists should support this, because the renewable energy, high-tech future they want and promise depends on these minerals. For example, generating all US electricity (3.5 billion megawatt hours per year) from wind would require some 14 million 1.8 MW turbines, requiring some 8 billion tons of steel alloys and concrete, 2 million tons of neodymium, other rare earths, and vast amounts of cobalt, molybdenum and other minerals. Substituting photovoltaic solar panels for turbines would require arsenic, boron, cadmium, gallium, indium, molybdenum, selenium, silver, tellurium and titanium.

Backing up that electricity for seven windless or sunless days would require 700 million 100kw Tesla battery packs – and thus millions of tons of lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel and cadmium.

Every generation of renewable energy, computer, communication and other high-tech equipment requires new materials in new quantities – and thus renewed exploration, mining and processing.

The United States is the only country that locks up its strategic mineral resources. No sane, responsible nation risks or forecloses its energy, technology, economic, employment, defense and sustainable future. So it will be fascinating to see which legislators, judges and pressure groups vilify the activities proposed in the Trump executive order, government minerals report and this article.

Those that try to block progress in these areas should be named and shamed (along with their financial supporters) – and their actions made key issues in election campaigns and social responsibility discussions. Perhaps they should be the first to get shut off from electricity, cars, computers, cell phones, medical care, social media and other modern benefits that depend on petroleum and critical minerals.

Let the Interior Department know your views on these vital issues. And maybe take a page from the Cutler-illegal immigrants playbook: Become a sanctuary county or state, simply ignore troublesome laws, regulations and court dictates – and just initiate your own exploration and mining programs. J

Paul Driessen is policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of articles and books on natural resource issues. He has degrees in geology, ecology and environmental law.

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93 thoughts on “Strategic minerals – Our next energy and security crisis?

    • Yup, an element with a half life of 14 billion years is considered radioactive waste and makes rare earth mining in the US uneconomic. Is there nothing that greed energy can’t screw up?

      • Essentially all naturally occurring Thorium is that long lived (1.4E10yr half life) isotope: Th 232. You can safely ignore all the shorter ones for mining purposes.

  1. Seriously! Let an embargo happen.
    The United States is a crisis-management, crisis-motivated, crisis-reactant country.
    If we cannot get a good huge war to motivate us, then a proper all-in embargo.
    Just saying
    GoatGuy

    • Isn’t that true of all developed countries these days? It’s actually not a real ‘crisis management’ situation, it’s really a ‘whatever crisis the media think up next management’ situation. I’ve never seen such media-led governments as developed countries today.
      Given that the world’s nedia are generally left-leaning (and some have fallen over) that tells you the current political direction.

      • The management of the real crisis – population density,lack of meaningful employment opportunities and so on is managed by diverting attention and emotion into faux crises and faux causes like climate change, gender politics and so on.
        Whilst we are all debating whether or not to sanctify gay marriage or have state funded sex change operations the real issues go undiscussed.
        Government today is not about managing a nation, its about keeping its populations in a suitable state of outrage and virtue signalling your way into power.

  2. Cobalt may be an issue. Platinum group may be an issue. Cobalt is coproduced with nickel and copper. Ditto Platinum group, although not so much as for cobalt. NatSec Answer is strategic stockpiles, as the unexplored US holdings are unlikely to yield major deposits (possible exception for platinum group in Alaska). The rare earths actually arent rare. US has a major deposit at Mountain Pass California but proper envirenmental controls make it presently too costly compared to China where there are no controls; Molycorp went bankrupt and was bought by a Chinese firm—but the deposit is still in California.

    • Ristvan, cobalt is common in the Belt Supergroup SEDEX deposits in Idaho and Montana. See the Black Bird Cobalt Deposit in eastern Idaho, which is sort of heading to production. As an Exploration Geologist with 46 years experience in 13 countries I feel confidant that these materials mentioned can be produced in the USA. The problem is initial geologic endowment, production permitting, production cost, and foreign low-cost competition (often low-cost due to a variety of ignored safety/environmental issues). This is a good article by Paul Driessen and having Ryan Zinke as head of Dept. of Interior is a huge plus. Go for it!

    • The problem historically with creating strategic stockpiles is that after one administration buys them, the next administration sells them off to reduce the national debt.

    • Ristvan,
      People experienced in mineral exploration are most reticent t write off the potential of any areas, underexplored or overexplored.
      In the 1980s on behalf of my employer company, I installed an energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, a relatively new device then. I encouraged our 50 or so geologists to routinely scan rock specimens for elements that might crop up unexpected. It paid off, with the initial detection of a very large (inferred) deposit with rare earths and unusual elements like niobium at interesting grades. Now, completely disconnected from it, I read occasional reports that its in- ground value is of the order of $50billion. The dominant reason for lack of mining to date is low metal prices from competitors overseas, but this is a very common happening. To get it going simply requires a national decision to exploit, irrespective of competition, in the interests of national resources security.
      The problem is more one of international price relativities and policies to cope, not so much the absence of deposits that could participate. In other words, big $ people pay the Piper, as always, except maybe in wartime. It is probably more complicated than you or I can cover in a blog like this. Geoff

      • Exactly. You want uranium? Seawater is full of it.
        Its just a matter of extraction costs. And those depend on labour costs, environmental regulation and energy costs.
        Rare earths are pretty common.

      • Ron and Geoff, thank you for contributing, that’s interesting. I was trying to find out about our mineral reserves online.
        What kind of prospecting would Driessen be writing about? How “invasive” or damaging to area?
        He writes that 427 million acres are unavailable. I wonder how much of this is the wilderness area he wants opened. There are about 2 million acres of wilderness in the Rockies Region.
        I’ve hiked some of those areas. There are lands in this beautiful country that bear few of the marks of progress, and would be degraded if they were. They were set aside for that reason, something that belongs to us all and to future generations. I would want to see it demonstrated that opening them up for exploration is necessary. How likely is it that China (or someone else) will institute a trade embargo? Who would find and extract the minerals when it’s not economical – would that mean subsidies? Is it possible to recycle some of these minerals? From a strategic standpoint it seems like we’d want to hang onto them anyway if they are so limited and we can still get them elsewhere.
        “Those that try to block progress in these areas should be named and shamed (along with their financial supporters) – and their actions made key issues in election campaigns and social responsibility discussions. Perhaps they should be the first to get shut off from electricity, cars, computers, cell phones, medical care, social media and other modern benefits that depend on petroleum and critical minerals”
        This seems like dirty tactics and the kind of rhetoric that is turning Americans against each other even before they try to discuss something. It’s juvenile playground behavior That alone puts me off. (Perhaps he should never be allowed in a national park again!) And what does this have to do with petroleum? Maybe this the real reason to open wilderness up – oil exploration in Alaskan

    • Y’all beat me to it. The majority of “Other” in the REO graph above is one mine in Western Australia owned by Lynas Corp. They could readily expand if there was a market for it. There are plenty other prospects around the state, country and rest of the world. Browns Range owned by Northern Minerals (again in Western Australia) is also approaching the final investment decision at some stage.
      There is no shortage of REOs, and most other minerals for that matter. It’s just a matter of time to find and extract them. In the meanwhile market shortages can occur and part of that is due to the relatively small size of the market.

  3. The US needs a lead smelter. The closing of last one in the US due to EPA regs sent car battery prices through the roof.

    • You could always replace the battery with a Hand crank leveraged generator, Or better yet, a bicycle pedal powered generator. Can anyone say Flintstones?

  4. In the early 1990’s, we found a sodium borate mine called Loma Blanca in Jujuy Province in Northern Argentina at about 4200m elevation above sea level. We funded this discovery 50:50 with INCO (International Nickel Company).
    The high Andes, including the high plain called the Altiplano (also called the Puna by locals), is rich in many rare minerals, and could help to alleviate the current supply crisis.
    Some notes on the Puna – and on “corporate social responsibility”:
    Herds of wild vicunas were visible, always in the distance, and the occasional rhea (ostrich cousin) roamed the range – they were large, very fast and nasty.
    The local people grew little potatoes and raised llamas in this high desert. They lived in villages with no apparent government or medical services. I think they lived much like they have for thousands of years. They were very nice, amiable and hardy. I liked them and think of them often.
    The air was thin and some non-natives found it difficult to survive without oxygen at night. In winter, temperatures dropped to -40C (-40F) because of the altitude, even though it was not that far south of the equator.
    At the time of our discovery, I was encouraged with the idea of bringing modern medical care to these people – their infant mortality rate was probably very high and life spans shortened by preventable diseases. I think that medical care has been introduced because of the new mine.
    Along with that medical care has come a lot of other “modern conveniences” – I’m not so sure that these will prove helpful.
    Regarding “corporate social responsibility”, I think it is generally a good ideal – but one must tread carefully. You can never be sure if you are making things better or worse, until you know the society very well. As a parallel example, we have plunged into countries to overthrow vicious dictators, only to create anarchy and much worse living conditions for the average inhabitant.

    • “corporate social responsibility”
      A noble quest, distorted by weak management and weaker employees. Even Oxfam fails miserably.
      BTW, Scotland won the Calcutta cup on Saturday against ‘the auld enemy’. The first time in 14 years I think, and in grand style. Edinburgh would have been rocking that night!

      • HotScot, I have been to that area of the Puna mentioned by Allan MCRAE and find it to be a combination of beautiful and desolate. I actually saw Indians (I think “Indigenous” is the more preferred term now) living in caves just to the south in Salta Province up on the Puna. Why are you sceptical about “corporate social responsibility”? As the founder and President of a Uranium company in Argentina I not only preached it but lived it. In many cultures you have only one chance to make an impression, and that is the first contact. We stressed neighbor interaction and regularly invited them to see what we were doing. Also they provided the young goats for fantastic barbecues/asados. I have assay sheets for samples from mixed-metal redbed mineralization with very high levels of cobalt, gallium, cerium, yettrium, vanadium, etc. The whole world has rare earth and refractory metal potential in redbed settings, because there are two fluid sources: simple roll-over oxidizing fluids trapped in roll fronts and complex chlorine brine deep black shale expulsions that are very metal-charged. You could go back into the old uranium mines on the Colorado Plateau and find rare earths sitting on the waste dumps, for instance. Tenke Fungarame in the Congo copper belt? Same thing.

        • Ron
          With the best will in the world, you were in all likelihood shielded from the realities of getting down and dirty with the natives because of your senior position in the company.
          “The boss is coming, quick, break out the BBQ and the friendly natives”.
          And as disparaging as that may seem, look to the cherub faced children and flag waving adults wheeled out to meet the Queen and Prince Philip at events. You will of course note that the Royal presence is rarely, if ever, in the truly deprived areas of the UK.
          I have been a policeman in Glasgow, a businessman, and now work in the ambulance service (not because I need to, but because I want to). The common theme is that progression to management means one is usually unwittingly protected from the realities of life.
          Oxfam officials have been caught enjoying the company of prostitutes in disaster areas. How did that happen without either hiding it from their senior managers, or with their collusion?
          I’m sure you had the best interests of the indigenous population at heart, but I’m certain you weren’t there all the time to see what went on.
          But it’s a difficult and long discussion probably not best discussed here.

      • Hotscot,
        Yours is a vicious and unsupported comment. Think about withdrawing it or apologising. Like many of my colleagues, I have seen far more corporate good than bad in the situations that you seem to be criticising. But then I was actually involved and in a position to judge. Geoff

      • Geoff thank you for your comments re HotScot. Actually as President (and CEO and Director) I arranged for myself to often be in the field and participate in this initial neighbors contact. An assistant of mine told me “what the neighbors want most from you is what you least want to give them, some of your time directly interacting with them” and I took this to heart. We were serious about radiation safety and actually generated an excellent radiation safety program, in three parts, workers, neighbors, and politicians, and posted it on-line on our website for all to see. I also offered the projects neighbors free review of radon gas potential in their homes and a chance to select one of them to participate in a “Transparency Committee”. The age of Robber Baron miners is over and you better think about fitting yourself into the neighborhood structure-from the very start-or you might be constructing a fatal flaw in your projects.

    • HotScot my friend, I am happy for your rugby win against England. Memories of a less civilized form of conflict, of Bannockburn, Sherrifmuir and Culloden.
      It is obvious to me from his comments that Ron Long knows his business. So do I.
      One of the greatest challenges of senior management is sifting the truth and learning who you can trust in your organizations – trust comes in two forms – people who have excellent judgment vs. poor judgment, and people who mislead and flat out lie to you. Both are problematic.
      RE good judgment:
      Many people can to their trained job fairly well, but lack the judgment and experience to perform outside their areas of training. Other people have that combination of intellect and common sense that enables them to perform well even in new tasks. Good judgment and common sense are regrettably uncommon traits.
      Re lying:
      It is notable that polygraphs only work (generally) in about 20 countries in the world (probably less), because polygraphs measure stress when lying. The other ~200 countries are “bully societies” where children learn at an early age that if they tell the truth, they will incur severe punishment. As a result, lying is endemic and is so common that it is stress-free.
      Several of my projects were conducted in “bully societies” and when something went wrong, one quickly learned that the straight truth was hard to find. A good manager quickly learns who he can trust to tell the truth and provide good advice, and who is blowing smoke. I expect you found the same thing in your police work.
      Management sometimes is faced with unusual new challenges that must be managed without training or time – for example, we had two armed invasions where my people were held hostage at gunpoint and we successfully handled both without any bloodshed or intervention from the authorities – which certainly would have resulted in violence. Nobody taught me how to deal with these incidents – I just used common sense and in this case that meant avoiding any “official” intervention, since these authorities “go in shooting and let God sort them out”.
      Working in the developing world means the “home rules” no longer apply. You rarely get to choose between good and bad – you usually get to choose between bad and worse. Kind of like our voting system in the Western world. 🙂
      How does this relate to wattsup and global warming hysteria?
      Since I heard about the alleged global warming crisis circa 1985, I have been a skeptic. My background in the earth sciences, especially in geology provided me with the knowledge that past climate has been colder and warmer, atmospheric CO2 has been higher and lower, and there is nothing unusual happening to Earth’s climate right now – we live in a relatively calm inter-glacial period, between major ice ages. Atmospheric CO2 is increasing, which makes the flowers happy.
      Other obvious signs that the global warming alarmists were fraudsters was their refusal to debate the science, and their standard bullying techniques of vilifying skeptics and declaring “the science is settled”, a ridiculous statement to anyone who understands the scientific method and the history of science. The fact that the leading warmists were deliberate fraudsters was obvious long before the Climategate emails, which proved it beyond any doubt.
      The fact that so many people continue to accept the warmist dogma is clear evidence of the gullibility and stupidity of many people, including so many journalists, politicians, and even so-called “scientists”, who clearly accepted this nonsense without conducting any research or independent thought.
      I think it is only a matter of time before the global warming house-of-cards comes tumbling down. Earth is not warming dangerously. If anything, the decline in solar activity in SC24 and 25 should result in some moderate global cooling, which could commence anytime.
      Regards, Allan
      (Edited by request) MOD

      • Allen,
        Not a thing in there I would disagree with.
        As for Ron and Geoff’s comments. I have also been a senior manager, as well as being a grunt. As a senior manager, I was well aware there were things going on behind my back, I just couldn’t prove them. I was also well aware that when I walked into a building or an office, they were remarkably calm, organised and efficient, despite me having worked in those places as a grunt and witnessing first hand the negative ‘office’ politics, backstabbing, blatant lying, cheating and chicanery that’s all too common in organisations.
        Rolling out the red carpet for the boss is normal. My late father in law was a senior U.N. foresters who had the displeasure of dealing with both Fidel and Raul Castro. He transformed Cuba’s forestry policy (there wasn’t one) and spent years developing it and spending lots of U.N. money on building timber processing factories. He was wined and dined, frequently shown the successful parts of Cuba, like their, then, beautiful hospital facilities that, in his words, put the NHS to shame. But as fast as he was building processing plants, he suspected plans were afoot to dismantle them and sell off the machinery etc. Which is precisely what happened as soon as the project was completed and he was gone. He was shielded from the realities of Cuban life, and to digress from that ‘protection’ risked his life, the project, and a political row at a sensitive time during the cold war.
        It amuses me when senior managers say they have their fingers on the pulse when they are actually operating under an illusion created specially for them.
        Ron and Geoff (and you) may well be exceptions, and if so I commend them, but the norm is creative hoodwinking whenever a ‘boss’ walks in. Innumerable ‘successful’ projects have fallen by the wayside after the boss has moved on, witness numerous Olympic complexes around the world, fully or partially derelict.

      • Hi HotScot,
        I certainly agree that bigwigs are too often given the “gilded tour” of the Potemkin Villages and many are too stupid or corrupt to realize it – we had a socialist leader of the NDP political party return from East Germany and the traitor extolled it as the “economic model for Canada”, circa the early 1980’s. I was there in 1989 just before the Berlin Wall fell, and it was a sh!thole. Details below.
        I was also in Cuba under Fidel, for a Board meeting, and it was also a failed state, economically poorer but less repressive at that time than East Germany.
        Best, Allan
        https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/12/31/mother-jones-trump-effect-undermining-support-for-german-green-energy/comment-page-1/#comment-2386559
        [excerpt]
        Here is something I wrote long ago on the subject.
        This article is true. I’ve also been to Cuba, and it is a cesspool of poverty and degradation (Trudeau boys, please take note).
        What is truly interesting is that there are still apologists for Castro and Cuba here in Canada, even as Fidel himself has recently admitted that Cuba is a failed state.
        They are probably the same “useful idiots” who said that Communist East Germany was a good model for Canada to emulate. I seem to recall several former NDP leaders who tried to sell us that line of BS (the names Broadbent and Lewis come to mind).
        I travelled to East Germany, going through the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie in 1989, shortly before the Wall fell. East Germany was a cesspool too. While not as materially poor as Castro’s Cuba, it was an even more vicious police state where neighbour spied upon neighbour, and nobody felt safe from the Stasi secret police. Those who tried to escape were shot, and allowed to bleed to death in “no-man’s land” between the many barbed-wire fences that formed “the Wall”.
        Epilogue
        The last person to be shot and killed while trying to cross the border from East to West Germany was Chris Gueffroy on February 6, 1989. He was 20 years old. Rest in peace, kid.

  5. Frankly, because of the facts stated regarding the amount of rare earths required for both industrial wind turbines themselves, and the battery back-up they would require, I am wondering who in their right mind thinks building “14 million 1.8 MW turbines” is something worth striving for – which this article seems to imply as a worthy goal???
    True “ardent environmentalists” know how environmentally-destructive the 54,000+ bird and bat-slaughtering industrial wind turbines already sprawling throughout 40 states in the nation truly are, and we are totally against building MILLIONS more of them.

    • The tax incentives are there to build not just 14 million turbines but 20+ million and import all the parts and materials as needed. That’s how unattended tax incentives policy works. They are tied not to the need but to the greed.

    • @ marykay
      domesticated and feral cats kill more birds than wind turbines
      Somewhere between 1.3 and 4 BILLION BIRDS per year in the US
      ” Our findings suggest that free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals. Scientifically sound conservation and policy intervention is needed to reduce this impact.”
      https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms2380

      • Cats go after smaller avians – song bird size. Wind turbines don’t discriminate and also take down large ones – eagles & condors that cats never touch. The big ones are rarer, and several are endangered. Cats also aren’t that great at getting bats. The turbines have a massive advantage there.

      • The wind industry and its’ salesmen like to claim that cars, cats, and buildings kill more birds and bats than wind turbines do. In fact, cars, cats and buildings do NOT typically kill Bald & Golden Eagles, condors, whooping cranes, other raptors, and bats — Industrial wind turbines do! See:
        Wind Turbines KILL 600,000 – 900,000 Bats per Year:
        http://savetheeaglesinternational.org/new/us-windfarms-kill-10-20-times-more-than-previously-thought.html
        Another fact wind industry salesmen leave out of their purposeful deception is that there are BILLIONS of cars, cats and buildings worldwide. Juxtapose that with the fact that there are around 341,000 industrial wind turbines worldwide (approximately 54,000 of those are in the USA, according to the American Wind Energy Association – AWEA), and the deception becomes obvious.
        Furthermore, those Billions of cars and buildings have greatly improved the quality of life for BILLIONS of people worldwide. (It can even be said that cats have some value in improving our quality of life since they keep disease-carrying rodents under control.) Industrial wind turbines do exactly the opposite – industrializing and devaluing entire Towns and Counties, and destroying the quality of life for those stuck living too close, while providing – at best – a redundant energy source that does NOT provide reliable, dispatchable baseload power.
        There is also the massive Habitat Fragmentation that the sprawling footprints of industrial wind factories create. Since habitat loss has been cited as the major cause of species decline worldwide, the additional deaths caused by wind factory-created habitat loss is inexcusable, and the exact opposite result true environmentalists espouse to hold dear.
        The whole fiasco becomes even more disgusting when you consider the fact that the very reason the wind industry exists is because of their claims that wind power will significantly reduce CO2 emissions. Yet, CO2 emissions have NOT been significantly reduced by industrial wind factories, nor have any conventional power plants been shuttered thanks to wind. The fact is:
        Industrial wind turbines are an additive source of bird and bat deaths – for NO justifiable reason!

      • @notfubar
        White Nose Syndrome kills Tens of Millions of bats — Wind turbines — not even close.
        You have to pay attention to “MME” number — multiple mortality events — 15 dead bats at each of 1000 wind turbines = 1000 MMEs but only 15,000 bat deaths, 1 white nose outbreak in a cave that killed 100,0000 bats counts as 1 MME
        FYI — cars kill more large birds than Wind turbines
        “A new study shows that crashes with cars and trucks kill as many as 340 million birds on U.S. roads every year — a much higher toll than bird deaths from many other human activities.”
        “One of those surveys estimated that as many as 1,500 barn owls a year died along a 150-mile stretch of interstate highway in Idaho – a death rate high enough to wipe out the local population.”
        https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/05/29/bird-deaths-car-crashes/9623931/

  6. At least take the time to study how the environment was impacted when U.S. mines and smelters were replaced by foreign capacity to serve the same global market. That requires the understanding that the environment and the market go beyond your backyard.

  7. I do wonder if we are we hurting things by using up everyone else’s resources before our own. Maybe the big plan has been to hold ours in reserve until it becomes hyper critical and then move to our own stock when everyone else is mined out. The only disadvantage to this strategy that I can see is that it may not be something that we can pivot to fast enough in case of an event like war.

    • William Mason
      February 26, 2018 at 12:37 pm
      This is exactly what China is doing…buying up and exploiting mines around the world, especially Africa and Australia, and keeping its own reserves safe. Probably for a time when things get nasty and bulk sea commerce gets difficult. They are not stupid and do lots of good long term planning, unlike the west hamstrung with 3-4 year political cycles and short term thinking.

  8. Rare Earth Elements are plentiful in the deep ocean so let’s put Mars on the back burner and make the ocean our next great frontier. Food, habitation, mineral resource and fresh water are all out there and renewable if we apply commonsense.

  9. China has foreclosed on enormous rich resources of rare earths that bulge out of the ground in Quebec, Ontario and the Northwest Territories by pricing ridiculously low. One example in Quebec. I developed a patented process for them for concentration and separation of rare earth metals by a physical magnetic process instead of the expensive and environmentally hazardous solvent extraction method a number of Years ago that led to a second generation development, using electrophoresis. This deposit is exposed at surface and has drilled resources of over 180 million tonnes at ~1% RE oxides. It contains all of the rare earth elements with good Neodymium and Dysprosium content. One day it will be a producer.

    https://patents.justia.com/patent/20140166788
    Name at bottom of patent.
    video: separation of mixed Lanthanum (DIAMAGNETIC – repulsed by magnetic field) and Europium (strongly paramagnetic -attracted by a mag field) carbonates in a water column: Europium carbonate is seen drawn to the field across the column to the left and Lanthanum carbonate is pushed away against the opposite wall of the column.

  10. Just a nit I’m pickin’…the first commercial personal computer was the Radio Shack TR-80. Mine had a whooping 4k RAM and had to use cassettes for storage.
    Fun little beastie.
    Cheers,

  11. Planned obsolescence, or built-in obsolescence, in industrial design and economics is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so it will become obsolete (that is, unfashionable or no longer functional) after a certain period of time.
    Smart Tech, Dumb Design: Planned Obsolescence and Social Responsibility…
    “For those Apple users out there, you are not alone in experiencing technical glitches that conveniently introduce themselves once a new iPhone release date approaches. These may not be pure coincidences, but perhaps evidence of “planned obsolescence.” Planned obsolescence is a business strategy whereby a product is intentionally designed and scheduled to regress in functionality in order to compel future purchases by consumers. Apple iPhones are not the only products suspected of planned obsolescence; personal electronics and home appliances (including printers, light bulbs, and refrigerators) may also have intentionally shortened life spans.”
    https://www.eli.org/vibrant-environment-blog/smart-tech-dumb-design-planned-obsolescence-and-social-responsibility.
    Economics and greed has turned man into a parasite “an organism which lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other’s expense “

    • That’s why I won’t give up my very old stove or furnace until they go capute. I always joke that these old appliances are going to outlast anything bought today.

    • “Planned obsolescence, or built-in obsolescence, in industrial design and economics is … ”
      We know what it is. What we don’t know is, what would be the opposite. so you tell us: what would be the opposite?
      an absence of planning the useful life ?
      a policy of planning or designing a product with infinite useful life ?
      a policy of never improving your product or create a new one, so as to prevent to turn obsolete the previous one?
      Actually “Planned obsolescence” is just name calling of proper design work, balancing usefulness (including life duration) and price.
      You’re not happy with some product? So do I. And then I don’t buy the product, or any other, from the same company. Strangely enough, more than once I learned later than the company experiences difficulties, was sold to another or bankrupted.
      Issue solved.
      man is a super-predator, not a parasite. He doesn’t just derive nutrients at the other’s expense, he kills it outright.
      “an organism which lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other’s expense “ looks more like the IPCC, WWF, Greenpeace etc. and most other bodies (And, you may argue, those people “working” for them, but this would be ungracious)

      • paqyfelyc ,
        It should be the consumers choice when to upgrade or update to a newer version, not the manufacture. It’s to easy to program electronic devises to pack it in at a given date or after a curtain number of uses. How many times have you had happen or heard of someones electronic device has packed it in weeks or even day’s after the warranty has expired. How many printers have you thrown out ???
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdh7_PA8GZU
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycD4XkUtbIw

      • ye ye ye the usual rant.
        You still do not define what the opposite of PO would be, and you still do not explain why a manufacturer would build something able to live a certain time, and then sabotage it, instead of building it directly with lower life time, and cheaper so with higher benefits.
        in short: usual BS

  12. I don’t understand why this is suddenly a crisis. The USGS reports on availability, production, trade, and reserves of a large number of minerals and has for as long as I can remember. Why is there now a need for an executive order, presumably a new agency, and a lot more government bureaucrats?
    There is certainly no problem with availability of most rare earth metals – as one other commenter here noted, China’s prices have been so low that they have driven many other producers to cease production. The ores that are not being processed are not going away – they are still in the ground.
    For example, Molycorp was selling rare earth metals from the Mountain Pass mine, then went into bankruptcy in 2015 when world prices dropped, Guess what? The Mountain Pass mine is still there! If world prices rise, I have no doubt the mine will open up again.

    • Thank you. I was going to say the same thing about USGS. Plenty of valuable info there.
      I heard a very knowledgeable speaker from the industry last year, he discussed Molycorp as an example. The mine is one thing, but cost effective refining is another, and it’s large part of the concern. Even still, there were potential approaches to this issue discussed. And if demand increases, then the cost of those approaches is less of a hindrance.
      I get the feeling this is TPTB telling us that we have another crisis and using that to drive bad policy decisions.

  13. The issue is that in normal course of events it can take 10 years to get up and running a domestic source for many of the strategic metals. Meanwhile the high cost structure of Western processing operations makes it uneconomic to maintain domestic capacity.
    With enough money and decisive action many metals can be produced pretty quickly – as the Manhattan Project showed. At the same time the US built nickel smelters, aluminium smelters and etc all at frantic pace to meet the needs of the new tech developed during WW2.
    An example: the US has plenty of gallium and germanium in the Mississippi Valley zinc deposits. Most of that Ga and Ge are in the tailings dams of the depleted mines because there wasn’t enough market for them. If an urgent need arose a processing plant could be built in a year.
    But it would take a year. Could an essential industry survive that long? That is the question.

  14. I swear, half of the people making decisions in this country since the end of WW2 have been deep cover communists, and the other half have been too incompetent to stop them.

  15. I’m certain that the problems caused by placing so much land off limits to exploration and putting so many road blocks in the way of development and mining, should be amenable to fixing by the same entity creating the problem in the first place, govt. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
    Glad to see Trump is paying attention, but I hope the focus goes to enabling markets rather than command and central control tactics, the go-to for the other guys.

  16. Uranium is a critical mineral and yet the Obama/Hillary administration thought it would be a cash-rich idea to sell 20% of it to Russia.
    And sure enough, the CGI was enriched to the tune of $145 Million!
    So much for American exceptionalism!

    • Unfortunately Rob Bradley you are dead wrong. 65 tons of uranium yellow cake was shipped to Canada by Uranium 1 then it was put into containers and shipped to Europe as an exported product from Canada. There were some US indictments handed down to the trucking and freight company for the illegal export of this yellow cake to Canada. The shipment shows up on the Atomic Energy Commission of Canada’s records if you go and look.

      • RB, you know better. After the export license to Europe was granted, the trail went cold. Do you work for one of the Podesta brothers, BTW?

      • Yes, but you seem devoted to Hillary’s CYA narrative.HRC could not possibly done anything wrong in taking “contributions” to the Clinton Foundation while Secretary of State. Or Bill’s speaking fees had nothing to do with . . . anything.

      • Rob, you have perhaps heard of “Clinton Cash”, by Peter Schweitzer? Hillary stated it was discredited, which actually means Obama did not want a grand jury, and Loretta Lynch was a loyal party member.

      • Failure to indict HRC, or Loretta Lynch, or BHO for that matter, is no indication of their innocence. The New York Times did one article, notably on Uranium One, and confirmed the basics of Schweitzer’s account. You apparently know the CYA chapter and verse, but are otherwise removed from reality.

      • This is more a comment on Sessions than your hero, Hillary. To get closer to the original point, have you actually read Schweitzer or the NYT confirmation of the basic account? You have been so shallow thus far, you are in danger of beading up.

    • Russia didn’t need any. They have plenty. The idea was to gain some control of a strategic resource . At the time they did, nuclear power was supposed to be having a ‘renaissance’ and we were going see a large demand for Uranium, and prices would go up. Unfortunately for all sides, the prior administration paid lip service to nuclear while undercutting it. We could have built nuclear plants at lower cost than the subsidies paid out for wind and solar (they really are not cheaper). The Russians were looking to profit and got squat. Fracking brought the cost of natural gas down to the point that nothing else can really compete, so even if we regained our senses and stopped throwing money into subsidies to make renewables look good, nuclear probably isn’t coming back for another 25-30 years.
      Uranium One did result in exports though: http://thehill.com/policy/national-security/358339-uranium-one-deal-led-to-some-exports-to-europe-memos-show (no U to Russia – that’s where the money went).

    • 1. Uranium One is a Canadian Company
      2. The ONLY person that could have prevented the sale was President Obama
      3. The NRC has to approve any export licenses — which they did to Canada
      4. All further export must be approved by the NRC
      5. No US sourced U3O8 has been exported to Russia, some has been exported to Western Europe and Asia
      6. The US has imported the overwhelming majority of it’s U3O8 for decades — mainly from Khazakhstan
      This is a giant nothing burger

      • Karl, all you are demonstrating in your defense of Hillary Rodham Clinton is that other people in the Obama administration were complicit in the sale.

      • So corruption was widespread in the Obama administration? Hillary still got beaucoup bucks from people associated with the sale.

      • As if control over a multi-million dollar foundation has no benefits? Bill got speaking fees, and they are still married, so . .

      • So what evidence would you accept? There has been enough evidence since the publication of “Clinton Cash” in 2015 to justify convening a grand jury, which is something Loretta Lynch would never do.

      • Classic example of an ad hominem argument, but without fallacies, where would progressives get arguments.

      • @ Roy Bradley…innocence is presumed, unless your name is Trump. Then your name and everything in your sphere of influence will be vilified on a daily basis at news sites across the nation. Every effort will be made to find you guilty as charged. Sounds like Cardassian justice from Deep Space Nine.

      • Attacking the person delivering the argument rather than addressing any of the points in the argument is a classic ad hominem fallacy. There are assertions that Steele himself did not verify any of the information he received from his Russian sources. That, and the minor little fact that the judge who granted the warrant was unaware of who the funding of the dossier was. The fact that the dossier was funded by the Hillary campaign is relevant, but not dispositive, regarding the credibility.

      • The nearly contemporary New York Times article on Uranium One an such confirmed the basics of Schweitzer’s account. Of course, the NYT did no follow up, but nitpicking errors does not deny the basic facts. California recalled Grey Davis for less, and on weaker evidence.

  17. Idaho’s Lemhi County has proven cobalt resources according to mining reports.  eCobalt Solutions Inc. (formerly Formation Metals) a Canadian mining company has been working on the Idaho Cobalt Project for years, coming close, but never reaching production. In September a feasibility study recommended opening the mine as shortage drive up the prices.
    Over a 12.5-year lifetime, eCobalt Solutions production is estimated to reach roughly 1,500 tons annually, after a two-year ramp up to full production. 
    Besides the US, ten countries produce cobalt, the top five in order of production: Democratic Republic of Congo (66,000 MT), China (7,700 MT), Canada( 7,300 MT), Russia (6,200 MT), Australia (5,100 MT). The 1,500 MT annual production by the Idaho Cobalt Projects is small compared to the top five producers.
    Clips from my article published in Idaho Magazine in January 2018.

  18. The US being self-sufficient in all commodities is doable, but at what cost? Solid allies such as Australia and Canada, in particular, have great mineral endowments as well as the established skills and technologies to supply many materials to the world (and US) markets.

  19. Finally.
    An explanation for why our “forward thinking big brains in government” subsidize wind turbines and then allow them to stand abandoned, when the subsidy runs out.
    Who knew they are stockpiling rare earth minerals?
    In refined form no less.
    That is why your electricity bills had to rise , to finance this clever scheme.

    • A good estimate of the upper limit of “abandoned” wind turbines in the U.S. is 1 percent of all turbines. There are maybe 55,000 utility-scale wind turbines in the U.S., so 1 percent would be 550 turbines.
      Of those turbines, the majority are almost certainly smaller, older turbines. The smaller, older turbines would tend to have gearboxes, not direct drives with magnets containing rare earth minerals. In other words, the amount of rare earth metals in “abandoned” wind turbines in the U.S. is trivial.
      “That is why your electricity bills had to rise , to finance this clever scheme.”
      Adjusted for inflation, residential electricity prices actually declined from 2008 to 2016
      https://www.statista.com/statistics/200199/residential-sector-electricity-prices-in-the-us-since-1975/

  20. So the question begs to be asked.Why are we pushing technology that depends on materials that are one rare and two some place else like China for an example. Thorium reactors were tested in the early 1960’s but because they did not make weapons grade material they were set aside by the Atomic Energy Commission in favor of Fast breeder Liquid Sodium reactors ( a total bust “We Almost Lost Detroit” is the book chronicling the debacle ) and heavy water High pressure reactors. The TED talks bring some good points about these type of reactors and Thorium is in great supply in the US and Canada.

  21. There is project under review for northern Minnesota [The NorthMet deposit, located in the Partridge River Intrusion of the Duluth Complex, is a large, near-surface, disseminated deposit containing copper, nickel, cobalt, platinum, palladium, gold and silver.] It has begun to seem like a bit of an urban culture [against] versus rural culture [for] war in the State Legislature.
    http://polymetmining.com/project-status/summary/

  22. The biggest roadblock is that in most case it is just uneconomical in USA today to run a mine, or a processing plant for ore. Always cheaper to import already processed mineral.
    Which is true of so much activities, USA have so huge a current account balance deficit. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/BN.CAB.XOKA.GD.ZS?locations=US
    And, while you have reason to think that economics is not really trustworthy, it does have a few solid math claims, which includes
    Budget Deficit = Trade Deficit + (Savings – Investment)
    USA will import (that is, NOT produce itself) as long as it has budget deficit, unless it changes its saving and investment behavior.
    Moreover, even in a case of trade balance, the fact that USA exports planes and stuff requires that is imports something, And minerals most probably belongs to the set of goods that would will stay in the import column.
    Now, it is for sure a good idea to get rid of other roadblocks, like excessive environmental zeal. Just don’t expect miracle. US mining most probably won’t be able to economically compete with importation, so you rather live with it, or find some other way to cope with it (like, some government strategic stockpiling, itself or through contractors. This will cost money.)

    • My first cell phone was a bag phone, with cord connected handset — and a warning to keep away from the 3 WATT antenna

  23. “Likewise for wind turbines, the author does not distinguish between direct drive and gear driven wind turbines, the latter of which does not require rare earth permanent magnets.:
    Yes, and even direct drive turbines do not *require* neodynium:
    https://yes2renewables.org/2012/03/06/rare-earth-magnets-not-all-new-turbines-are-using-them/
    From that link:
    Contrary to what the media reports suggested, ENERCON wind energy converters generate environmentally-friendly power totally without neodymium. The gearless design on which all wind turbine types – from the E-33/330 kW to the E-126/7.5 MW – are based employs an annular generator with separate excitation. The magnetic fields required by the generator to produce electricity are created electrically. Due to this design, ENERCON turbines are built completely without permanent magnets.

  24. maybe is it time to put the Space Mining Act to work? Maybe, in place of sending a Tesla car to the asteroid belt, SpaceX should bring back to Earth an asteroid? 😉

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