Misconception #12: Mountain Pass stopped producing rare earth elements in 2002
Mountain Pass has never stopped producing rare earth elements in the facility's almost 58 years of operation. However, in 2002 mining of fresh ore to feed the processing systems came to a halt due to a lack of tailings basin capacity and of a new permit to expand the old basin or build a new one. After numerous upgrades and revisions to resolve the issues, Molycorp is poised to restart mining of fresh ore as early as 2011 to ensure its mill can be fed by the middle of 2012.
The thing to keep in mind is that the mineral pricing is a two way street, especially when you are talking about the fact that we in the US have some of the largest deposits of some of these rare earths. The associated problem, and something that we can do do something about to minimized the games that other countries are playing, is to encourage the development of our own natural resources. The current environment is not conducive to that.
The green tariff is a pretty good idea, David. I could create a playing field that is closer to level. Yet I can't see it happening in our current political environment. Like any commodity, rare earths will sort themselves out as mines across the world are sparked into action by higher prices.
RE materials, such as neodymium and dysprosium (magnet material), are very rare in practical minable reserves (period). Yet, the small number of electric vehicles and wind turbines with high performance PM motors has been one reason for making the price of these RE materials increase dramatically. If EV and Wind turbines become more common as anticipated, there is question whether all the practical minable reserves (including reopening mines) can satisfy the demand. This is the subject worth looking into!
Rare Earth "Shortage" ???Rare earths are NOT rare, to the contrary, most are more common in the earth's crust than Copper. However, 'rare earths' are in the Lanthanum group of elements and therefore their ores are often comingled with radioactive elements such as Uranium and Thorium.As environmental rules were enacted in the 70's and 80's, rare earth refining was foolishly outsourced to nations without pesky EPA and OSHA regulations.
Our "Free Trade" policy exacerbated this outsourcing, so that today 90% of the refining capacity has migrated to nations that frankly don't care about worker exposure to radiation or what environmental damage is wrought when the tailings are dumped in streams and rivers.
A 'Green Tariff' on imports which are produced in facilities which do not abide by effective environmental or workplace safety regulations would level the playing field between offshore and domestic suppliers, and the increased competition would prevent artificial 'shortages' of these strategic materials.
I agree, Roddalitz. The advantage of replacing the materials is that they could find a replacement that is readily available and perhaps superior. If there's one thing we're learned from oil, shortages will just keep coming back and coming back.
It's amazing the influence that commodity markets is playing on design and manufacturing. It would be great if supply and demand, rather than external factors, would be the driving force in the cost of materials such as rare earth magnets. Anything close to an 8-9% increase in the price of servomotors for 2012 would be significant.
Good points, Kristin. Saudi Arabia is facing a similar fate. They have voiced concerns that if oil stays above $80 per barrel, the world will seek alternatives. They apparently wanted to keep oil down at $80, but they have been unsuccessful. At the high rates, they're correct, the world will find alternatives.