U.S. Slowly, Very Slowly Oozes REE Assault
Source: Network World, Michael Cooney (3/23/11)
"China is selling REEs at nearly double 2010 prices."
China controls some 97% of the world's rare earth elements (REEs) and currently sells them for $44,361/ton—almost double 2010 prices , according to The Wall Street Journal. The materials are used to build everything from wind turbines, EV batteries, weapons guidance systems to oil-refining catalysts, TVs and fiber optic cable.
Rare earth materials are used in many applications for their magnetic and other distinctive properties and include 17 elements with names such as lanthanum, lutetium, neodymium, yttrium and scandium.
What the DOE is looking to do is update its Critical Materials Strategy, expected later this year, to include additional analysis of rapidly changing market conditions and identify specific steps forward for substitution, recycling and more efficient use of materials identified as critical.
In a report on rare earth materials last April, the Government Accountability Office said rebuilding the U.S. rare earth supply chain could take up to 15 years and is dependent on several factors, including securing capital investments in processing infrastructure, developing new technologies and acquiring patents—many of which are held by international companies, the GAO stated.
The report went on to say the United States has the expertise but lacks the manufacturing facilities to refine oxides to metals. For example, the U.S. is not currently producing neodymium iron boron (NeFeB) permanent magnets used for computer hard drives and cell phones and has only one samarium cobalt (SmCo) magnet producer. SmCo is used a lot in what's known as a traveling-wave tube, an electronic device that amplifies radio signals.