Short term shortages due to any number of situations, geographical, economic or political must be resolved with traditional methods. I know I'm going out on a limb here, but there are no shortages of many rare earth materials on the Moon.
Before you start rolling your eyes - consider that over the next twenty years an infrastructure for moving materials between Earth and Moon orbits may be established based on Buzz Aldrin's cycler ship concept, making shipments from the Moon downright inexpensive. The first robot miners on the Moon are little more than bulldozers scraping lunar soil off the surface and into launching facilities. Payloads are electromagnetically pushed into lunar orbit, dock with the cycler ship and delivered into Earth orbit. Payload capsules filled with lunar soil are dropped from orbit to processing plants on Earth.
Granted, the start up costs are huge, but they are an investment which could pay dividends for many decades to come. All of the needed technology to build and operate this infrastructure is readily available right now.
The popular concept is that space commercialization means communication satellites and tourism, but I think that mining the Lunar surface is the real first step and we can take those steps in the very near future.
While there are distinct acvantages to PM motors and generators, they are not the only kind. What about wound-field machines that have been around for >100 years? True, you have to use a little extra power to excite the field, but you gain the ability to vary the field by adjusting the field current.
My point is that even if permanent magnet materials were to diaappear entirely, we would could still be make quite satisfactory machines, especially in the larger sizes.
Yes, Naperlou, that applies to IP violations as well. One of my sources told me China's regulators are reluctant to shut down a plant that is producing knock-offs if the plant is the major employer in a small village and the plant also produces legitimate products.
I think you've raised an excellent point, naperlou, one which applies at least by analogy to several other disconnects. The US ships plastic to be sorted before recycling/parts to be assembled/raw materials to be processed or assembled or refined or something, and then ships the product of all these back here, and then complains about human rights, health, environmental, pollution and/or labor problems, and/or supply disruptions or competition in pricing. While some or all of those complaints may be justified in a general way on the world stage, we often act as if the problems we generate as customers have nothing to do with us, because we depend on these materials or processes but don't want them here.
@naperlou: I understand your point concerning the difference between having standards, and the actual enforcement of standards. With respect to rare earths, however, note that of the 24,904 t of export quotas for rare earths that were issued in the first round of allocations for 2012, 14,358 t of them were issued on a provisional basis, to 19 out of 30 companies total. The proviso is that these companies pass pollution-control standard inspections by July 2012. Companies that are unable to do so, will have their quota allocations given to those that have already passed. Companies in the provisional category perhaps surprisingly include the Baogang Group, the world's largest producer of rare earths.
All indications are that these restrictions are being rigorously enforced. we also know that the Chinese crackdown on illegal mining has also been vigorous and mostly effective.
The problem in the US regarding permitting may have some originals at the Federal level, but the vast majority of the challenges that, say, Molycorp has faced as it has brought Mountain Pass along, relate to the location of its mine being in California. No-one in their right mind would look to start a rare-earths mine (and one for other minerals) from scratch in California. There are plenty of other far more mining-friendly states in the USA, where permitting is not as arduous.
And this is in contrast to places like Quebec in Canada, which is one of the most mining friendly jurisdictions in the world, but which has this reputation without appearing to compromise on environmental or other considerations when permitting.
@ghatch: I was aware that they were restarting the mine in California. That was in the news some time ago when this whole issue of China restricting export of these materials came to the fore.
As for the Chinese plannts being built under higher standards than in the US, that can often be illusory. The problem in China is not the existence of standards, but the implementation of them. It is often non-existent. I have some knowledge of the issue there. When the owner of a plant asks a US customer if he wants to include air filtration for the workers in a plant, as if it is an optional thing, then you know there are issues. By the way, that filtration will cost you. It is good that the standards are high, but until they are enforced across the board they are meaningless. You have to go there and verify for yourself. Of course, this adds to the cost as well. Apple's recent troubles with FOXCONN are an example of this.
The point in the article was not that the standards were higher or lower, though. The problem in the US is getting the permits to build. This is a completely different issue.
@naperlou: Molycorp has been planning for a number of years to restart the Mountain Pass mine, doing so through what it calls Project Phoenix, the company's initiative to put in place state-of-the-art processing capabilities, to produce up to 19 ktpa of rare earths in the first phase. The planned acquisition of Neo Material Technologies does not change that and has occurred long after Project Phoenix was initiated. First materials from the revamped Mountain Pass facilities should be produced later this year, and the company has the permits to do so.
Molycorp may send semi-processed materials to Neo's facilities in China for finishing; but those plants, too, are state-of-the-art. Indeed, there are strong indications that recent regulations put in place in China provide a HIGHER standard for pollution control than those presently in place in the USA. Who'd-a-thunk, eh?
Alternatively, Molycorp could supply Neo with finished oxides and metals, which could then be used by Neo's Magnequench division to produce magnetic powders. Either way, we should not see this as an attempt by Molycorp to get materials processed in a juridcition where "regulations are lax" - that's simply not the case.
@Rob Spiegel: Molycorp has stated for some time that it thinks it can produce its rare-earth products at a LOWER cost than the Chinese presently can, because of the new technologies they've put in place, plans to use electricity generated on-site, and also because the starting grade is much higher than that in Bayun Obo, the primary source for light rare earths in China. We will almost certainly see a permanent incremental increase in Chinese production prices, as the capex for implementing pollution mitigation measures is accounted for. The leading new non-Chinese projects should be competitive on this basis...
Yes, that's a tough one. You can't really keep the mine open if you can't sell the product for enough $$ to justify the cost of getting the product out. That's especially true if the cheap materials are on the market for 15 or 20 years. It's one of those situations that probably couldn't have been avoided.
From today's Wall Street Journal: Molycorp, a large US rare-earth mining firm is buying Canada's Neo Material Technologies Inc., which makes magnets.The article mentions that Molycorp is restarting their mine in the US.Interestingly, it is noted that the mine closed because of falling prices.It had been the world's largest.Neo Material has processing facilities in China.Molycorp has plans to send material there for processing.Thus, we would see US sourced materials sent to China to processing.The reason given is that the West is reluctant to allow permits for this processing because of the pollution generated.When there are so many differences in regulation and willingness to have these materials processed in their countries it is no wonder there are supply disruptions.One thing that is problematic is the West is that we depend on these materials, but we don't want them here.Then, in China they are processed without the safeguards we would have here at home.Then we complain that the Chinese disrupt our supply.