America’s Only Rare Earth Mine

// November 4th, 2013 // Uncategorized

Molycorp Mountain Pass rare earth facility in California’s Mojave Desert; Credit: The Atlantic

I read an article today about the only Rare Earth mine in the U.S. (there are many abroad in international locations and most of them are controlled by China, which uses them to corner the market on consumer electronics). It would be interesting to start new Rare Earth mines in the United States so that we can recoup some of the control over electronics from China. More importantly, mining rare earth metals in the U.S. would also allow the U.S. to control future energy sources derived from rare earth metals of relative abundance, such as the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR’s) that we should build to take advantage of the relative abundance of rare earth metal’s that can be used for clean, more efficient energy such as Thorium. There are so many types of nuclear energy and Thorium is the safest that I’ve heard of. If I were wise I’d invest in Rare Earth metals. I think that would change up a lot of the way this country runs. (It currently runs on gasoline.)

Here are some highlights from the article, entitled, A Visit to the Only American Mine for Rare Earth Metals:

“That big hole in the ground? It’s a pit mine at the Molycorp Mountain Pass rare earth facility in California’s Mojave Desert. Metals mined from pits like that were used to make the cell phone in your pocket and the computer screen you’re staring at right now.”
“At one point, the majority of the world’s rare earths were mined at the Mountain Pass facility. Then, in 1998, Molycorp halted chemical processing at the mine following an environmental disaster…”
“At the same time, China was dramatically increasing its rare earth production. The resulting lower market prices forced Molycorp to close their mine in 2002. …China now produces between 96% and 99% of the world’s total rare earth supply. The government carefully allocates supply to individual companies to support domestic electronics production.”
“In 2009, they cut export quotas of rare earths from 50,000 to 30,000 tonnes, sending already-high prices on international markets even higher.”
“[In 2012], they [reopened] the Mountain Pass mine, an operation they’ve aptly named “Project Phoenix.” Getting to this point, however, has been expensive — about $1 billion so far — and has required a lot of special environmental permits.”
“The heavy rare earths terbium, yttrium, and dysprosium are necessary for manufacturing wind turbines and solar cells, so the government has a particular interest in finding sources of those elements within the US.”
“The Department of Energy released a Critical Materials Strategy report… which found that rare earths are necessary for clean energy technology, that the supply of those heavy rare earths is particularly at risk, and that Molycorp is the most promising rare earth project outside of China.”
“…the mine runs 24/7 because the equipment is hugely expensive; it couldn’t be profitable otherwise.”
“By controlling the world supply of rare earths, China is trying to create a barrier for anyone attempting to manufacture electronics elsewhere. While most electronics are still manufactured in China, plants are opening around the world. All of these plants are currently subject to China’s export taxes and artificial limitations of supply — if Mountain Pass production is as high as expected, that may change.”

Article in The Atlantic: Wiens, K. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/02/a-visit-to-the-only-american-mine-for-rare-earth-metals/253372/

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/02/a-visit-to-the-only-american-mine-for-rare-earth-metals/253372/