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DN Insight: What Rare Earth Shortages Mean for Engineers, Part 4

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Rob Spiegel
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Re: New Sources of Rare Earths
Rob Spiegel   5/10/2012 3:15:30 PM
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That makes sense, Kenish. Make the output from the mine pure and dense so you're not transporting any waste. I understand that's how port developed. If you added alcohol to wine, you could ship a richer product at the same weight.

Kristin Lewotsky
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Re: Liberty?
Kristin Lewotsky   5/10/2012 2:28:15 AM
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Hi Jeff,

Thanks for your comments--sorry for the delayed reply. The remarks about "rare earth elements" being something of a misnomer are correct. You can find more detail in a U.S. government report at http://tinyurl.com/bqjudr8. "The more
abundant REE are each similar in crustal concentration to commonplace industrial
metals such as chromium, nickel, copper, zinc, molybdenum, tin, tungsten, or lead
(fig. 4). Even the two least abundant REE (Tm, Lu) are nearly 200 times more common than gold..."

The issue is that the elements are typically found bound with other materials, so they require effort to extract. The dynamic going on with China is that they mine REE ores as a byproduct of another mining operation -- they're basically turning scrap into revenue. This is partly why they were able to drop prices.

As far as alternative sources go, the Mountain Pass mine actually features REEs In much higher concentrations and Chinese sources, at least for some of the main REEs. This may help the mine to be more cost competitive as they get things up and running. The bottom line is that the cost is coming down but will probably never get anywhere near as low as they were in the heyday. That said, the ability of engineers to design around the problem is part of what the and driving down demand and causing the speculators to release their inventory, hence driving down the overall cost. There are enough design options around that I think we'll be okay.

 

 

kenish
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Re: New Sources of Rare Earths
kenish   5/9/2012 8:20:26 PM
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@Rob- This reminds me of silver mines in the Cerro Gordo area of California, near Death Valley. The silver boom was the catalyst for LA's growth in the late 1800's.  For awhile the ore was shipped to LA and then processed.  Of course they soon realized almost all the weight they were hauling was slag, so mills were built next to the mines.

So asteroids will be mined but the valuable materials will be extracted on site, enroute to Earth, or perhaps on the moon.  Maybe the output is ingots which are shaped and coated to reenter the atmostphere.  True there's a risk from stray ingots landing in the wrong place, but then again 400 ton aircraft loaded with billions of BTUs of fuel fly overhead every day!

Sounds like a Burt Rutan problem-solving exercise!

jeffbiss
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Gold
Liberty?
jeffbiss   5/2/2012 10:17:19 AM
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What do you mean by "liberty"? It's essentially a meaningless word as it means whatever anyone wants it to mean, ranging from implying that one can do whatever one wants without any consideration as to the consequences of those behaviors to behaviors constrained by ethics and morals. So, what do you mean? The constitution is interpretable, so while the constitution puts limits on government, it provides wide latitude for action in the general welfare and the constitution itself denies unconstrained libtery because it replaced the Articles of Confederation.

Also, it's not that China is an awesome source, but that it may have a greater concentration of REEs. So, their resources are their resources and while we have trade agreements, we must still deal with the fact that what is in their control is in their control and while the US has made the conscious decision to give away our technological knowledge and allow foreign mining interests access to our resources for essentially nothing, China may not do so.

As for that article you linked to, it provides absolutely no details about its claims, such as what do they mean by "not rare", and any support as to whether they are more common than Cu. Start here: "Rare Earth Elements—Critical Resources for High Technology".

warren@fourward.com
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Platinum
Re: Huh?
warren@fourward.com   5/1/2012 8:30:51 PM
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http://www.raremetalblog.com/2012/04/chinas-ree-cartel-too-little-too-late.html#more

warren@fourward.com
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Platinum
Re: Huh?
warren@fourward.com   5/1/2012 8:22:00 PM
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Sorry to be so smart alec.  It just comes so naturally.

I know we are social animals, but it is about liberty.  Liberty is everything, and it is the nature of government to try and capture all the power it can and limit the liberty of the people, ergo the "Patriot Act."  That is why the Constitution is so important.  It puts limits on government and leaves the power to the states.  The Fed is where the problems are.

But enough of that.  About the Rare Earths.  I spoke from an article I read recently, so I was referring to that.  I cannot remember the source, but I accepted it.  I'm easy that way.  I know China is an awesome source for these, but not the only source.  Right now it is the main supplier, and thus they control the market.  They control the market on a lot of things, politicians included.  Oops, back to politics.

Rare Earths.  I wish I had hoarded some...

:-)

motoragent
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Iron
RE supply
motoragent   5/1/2012 8:07:51 PM
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There is and will continue to be a high cost for neodymium and dysprosium materials because of the negative environmental impact of mining, with the escalating use of electric vehicles and wind turbines, and yes, with speculation. Mines are reopening because of the RE high cost but will they stay open if the high costs diminish? Some countries are already making their move: http://www.raremetalblog.com/2012/02/cerium-neodymium-and-dysprosium-prices-keep-tumbling-report.htm. And yes, there are certain kinds of electric machines without permanent magnets that have higher efficiency, torque density and power density with lower cost than permanent magnet electric machines.

jeffbiss
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Gold
Huh?
jeffbiss   5/1/2012 3:55:08 PM
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The problem is human beings. If you were to be objective, you'd see that as humans are social animals, government is inevitable as some sort of hierachy is always developed. Any argument that government is the source of all our problems is therefore simply invalid.

Also, what "over-regulation"? That argument can be ignored as it's a canard. The claim is a) not supported with any examples and (b) generally created from a very narrow economic definition, generally from a specific ideological perspective, that conveniently ignores externalities not considered improtant by the claimer.

So, the fact remains that REE are rare, China happens to be the major source, and trade agreements and policies have made it more difficult for the US to apply any leverage to coerce China to export them more freely. Therefore, the only valid alternative is to develop more efficient means for using electricity that reduces the need for these rare elements.

Prove me wrong.

warren@fourward.com
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Platinum
Re: Give it a rest.
warren@fourward.com   5/1/2012 3:35:42 PM
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Is that you,mom? Government IS the source of all our problems. Their central planning and over regulation causes constant and severe problems. They can't be ignored, and more of us need to be ranting and not just sitting on our butts complaining about those who are concerned. Mom.

Rob Spiegel
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Blogger
Re: Rare Earch Magnets
Rob Spiegel   5/1/2012 2:27:36 PM
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The rare earths problem will take care of itself over the next few years. Now that prices have gone up -- due to China's rationing -- it is now affordable to mine rare earths here and in Australia. Soon Afghanistan will come online as well. 

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