David Kirkpatrick

November 18, 2010

Rare earth mineral news

I’ve blogged about this more than once, but if you need the ultra-quick version — China supplies pretty much the entire world with rare earth minerals, elements that are used to manufacture vital electronics and computing parts, because it’s been doing so very, very cheaply for a long time. Recently the nation has used its rare earth monopoly as an economic bludgeon, most notably against Japan and the United States.

We know the U.S. and Australia, among other countries, have rare earth element resources. Now that we know just how rare earth rich the U.S. is, it’s time to seriously ramp up domestic production and get off the cheap Chinese teat.

From the fourth (and last) link:

Approximately 13 million metric tons of rare earth elements (REE) exist within known deposits in the United States, according to the first-ever nationwide estimate of these elements by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The report describes significant deposits of REE in 14 states, with the largest known REE deposits at Mountain Pass, Calif.; Bokan Mountain, Alaska; and the Bear Lodge Mountains, Wyo. The Mountain Pass mine produced REE until it closed in 2002. Additional states with known REE deposits include Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

“This is the first detailed assessment of rare earth elements for the entire nation, describing deposits throughout the United States,” commented USGS Director Marcia McNutt, Ph.D. “It will be very important, both to policy-makers and industry, and it reinforces the value of our efforts to maintain accurate, independent information on our nation’s natural resources. Although many of these deposits have yet to be proven, at recent domestic consumption rates of about 10,000 metric tons annually, the US deposits have the potential to meet our needs for years to come.”

REE are a group of 16 metallic elements with similar properties and structures that are essential in the manufacture of a diverse and expanding array of high-technology applications. Despite their name, they are relatively common within the earth’s crust, but because of their geochemical properties, they are not often found in economically exploitable concentrations.