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

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Beth Stackpole
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New ways of looking at an old problem
Beth Stackpole   4/30/2012 6:54:25 AM
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To me, the message here is that innovation isn't just about coming up with the next new technology idea, but also being creative enough to see there can be novel approaches to old problems. The rare earth shortages are likely to continue for some time. This is a great example of deft engineering and being able to shift gears to another way of problem solving when something stands in your way.

williamlweaver
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New Sources of Rare Earths
williamlweaver   4/30/2012 9:50:53 AM
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I know many folks are poking fun at the idea of a push to asteroid mining, but as our high-tech gadgets require more and more high-tech materials that are becoming more and more scarce, looking off-world for new supplies sounds like a logical next step. It also beats the heck out of our entire technical workforce generating new mobile apps for their entire career...

Kristin Lewotsky
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Re: New ways of looking at an old problem
Kristin Lewotsky   4/30/2012 10:19:24 AM
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Hi Beth,

The interesting thing to me about this work is that NovaTorque initially started out working with rare-Earth magnets and only tried the technology on ferrite magnets after rare-Earth pricing got out of hand. whatthat means is that in a few years, when new sources come online and the price of rare-Earth materials drops, NovaTorque can take what they've learned and begin making rare-Earth versions of their design, which could create uber-high-performance motorseven more compact and conventional rare-Earth versions.

naperlou
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Re: New ways of looking at an old problem
naperlou   4/30/2012 10:42:04 AM
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Kristin, That is a great point.  In solving a material problem in the near term you set yourself up for even more effeciencies when that material comes down in price. 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: New Sources of Rare Earths
Rob Spiegel   4/30/2012 2:22:15 PM
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Interesting idea, William. This is the basis of the Alien movie series, that space travel will essentially be based on mining. That may be the case. Yet, given our gains in creating sophisticated robot technology, the mining missions may not involve humans.

Charles Murray
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Re: New ways of looking at an old problem
Charles Murray   4/30/2012 5:12:23 PM
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I agree, Beth. This is a great story of innovation in the face of economic necessity -- a great example of the old saying, "It's not what you have, it's what you do with it."

Charles Murray
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Re: New Sources of Rare Earths
Charles Murray   4/30/2012 5:17:22 PM
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I suspect that transporting tons of raw materials back to earth will be a lot more costly than transporting them from under the ocean -- unforeseen difficulties are sure to play an economic role there. Still, I agree with you that our taste for high-tech will one day make asteroid mining a reality.

Mydesign
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Re: New ways of looking at an old problem
Mydesign   5/1/2012 4:59:49 AM
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Beth, there are enough rare earth metals are available in China. They are possessing about 85% of the total availability. If China is willing to open up their market for international customers/companies, most of the problem may get resolved.

warren@fourward.com
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Rare Earch Magnets
warren@fourward.com   5/1/2012 9:39:24 AM
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As a user of rare-earth magnets I hear there are large quantities of the resources necessary here in the USA but for the cost of getting it out of the earth.  I guess the "rare" part is the permits, etc.


China broke international agreements in withholding this material from the world.  I think it is a brilliant maneuver to raise prices.  Saudi Arabia, et al, do it with oil.  I do it with my vast mental capacity and my stunning good looks.  So, the solution is an engineering one.  How can we get around China?  We got around the buggy whip cartel with the automobile.  We can find ways to extract it from our own soil effectively, safely, and cleanly (unless the government has another hidden agenda in agreements with China).  Or we can find substitutes.  Maybe there is a substance we can use like "I Can't Believe It's Not Neodymium!"


I don't know if I buy the "hoarding" excuse.  Speculators tend to stabilize prices.  I think dark-side politics are at play, Mr. Watson.

ChasChas
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Re: New Sources of Rare Earths
ChasChas   5/1/2012 9:44:13 AM
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Our missing link to successful space mining is that we have no space drive like all the science fiction crafts and what has been observed in "UFO's".  We need something to replace the rocket to break earth's gravity before real economic feasibility is here.

Where are we at on the carbon nanotube ribbon hooked to a geosynchronous satellite? 

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