Elements of future conflict 219

What are “rare earths” used for?

Cell phones, computer hard drives, and MRI machines. Military applications include guidance and control systems, advanced optics technologies, radar and radiation detection equipment, advanced communications systems. Weapons and equipment that contain rare earths are: Predator unmanned aerial vehicles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, Zumwalt-class destroyers, night vision goggles, smart bombs, sonar transducers.

The point is, we need them, and at present are reliant on China to supply them.

This is from Wizbang:

China provides 97% of the world’s REE (Rare Earth Elements) production but … only has 48% of the world’s known reserves of rare earths. … China has been imposing export quotas on rare earths which has created two separate rare earth markets – an internal Chinese market and globally, pretty much everyone else. The Chinese export quota for the year sets the global supply and price of REEs. …What we [the US] and the EU are setting ourselves up for is the potential for China to hold us hostage for critical technology.”

Will the question of rare earth elements find their way into discussions with China’s Vice President Xi Jinping during this week’s state visit?

Sarah Wirtz of the American Resources Policy Network tells The Atheist Conservative: “We need to get our act together on these critical metals. Regardless of whether the issue will be touched on in the bilateral talks, we can’t wait for China – and shouldn’t assume that it would be inclined – to change its policies to suit our needs. We can and we must shape our own strategic and economic future, and maximize our own mineral resource potential, and it is about time Washington created a framework conducive to doing so, rather than adding additional barriers to the responsible exploration and development of the mineral riches we’re blessed to have.”

This is from Real Clear World:

[There are] 18 “mineral materials” for which U.S. manufacturers – commercial and military – are 100 percent dependent on foreign sources of supply. In the case of 9 of those 18 minerals or metals, the U.S.’s No. 1 or 2 supplier is China. Next comes a baker’s-dozen of metals and minerals for which the U.S. is 80 to 99 percent foreign-dependent, from the humble Antimony and Potash to exotics like Gallium, Germanium, Titanium and Rhenium. Some we buy from Canada, others from Kazakhstan. How sure we can be of our future supply is anyone’s guess.

And that’s the problem. It turns out, for all of our breezy pundi-fication about the U.S. being a post-industrial economy, we still build stuff out of things that have their origins in rock and dirt. The materials [we need]  are found in the electronic gadgets we use for play and work, the weapons our military uses to keep us safe …

That’s where the fear-factor kicks in, because … we’re more dependent on foreign sources for dozens of key resources than we’ve ever been dependent on OPEC for oil. We just haven’t realized it yet.

So, what do we do?

We can start by reading the global signals that suggest we’re heading into a period of resource scarcity.

There is a high probability that China will exhaust  its supplies of REEs with its own consumption.

Take the much-mentioned Rare Earths crunch. … [China’s]  break-neck GDP growth will consume all of the Rare Earths it sweats out of the ground, and then some.

Rare Earths may be getting the headlines, but there’s no reason to think things will prove much different for Fluorspar, Indium or Gallium. Shortages of any of those substances may not knock us out of our easy chairs, but translate them into the products they make possible: There go our flat panel TVs (Indium), our semiconductors (today), our fuel cells (tomorrow) – both Gallium – and our microscopes, telescopes and optical lenses (Fluorspar).

Glib comments that we can solve shortfalls by simply substituting for scarce raw materials in the manufacturing process deserve deeper examination. Substitution is not so easy. Take, for instance, Niobium (100 percent foreign-dependent, with Brazil our leading supplier), used in fabricating high-strength steel alloy. Instead of Niobium, you can substitute Vanadium as an alloying agent – and you’ll only be switching U.S. dependency from Brazil to China (100 percent foreign-dependent, leading Vanadium supplier).

Or take Indium (100 percent dependent; China the No. 1 supplier), an essential ingredient in solar cells and semiconductors. Gallium Arsenide can substitute for Indium in solar cells and in some semiconductor applications. But we’re 99 percent dependent on Gallium (China, No. 1 supplier) and 100 percent dependent for Arsenic (China again).

What we can do to work through a resource shortage differs, metal by metal and country by country. After all, there’s nothing a nation can do if it drew the short straw in the sub-surface minerals lottery. But when a nation does have untapped resources, it needs a policy to address surety of supply. That means mining more if you’re geologically blessed, keeping on friendly terms with like-minded governments that have resources you lack and diversifying away when possible from regimes likely to use their resource leverage against you in some future crisis or conflict. …

For U.S. policymakers, the looming resource crunch seems to be one more crisis that they’re not ready to cope with right now. With trillion-dollar deficits and a debt-clock ticking down to doomsday, that’s fair enough. But once Congress and the White House get the budget straightened out, it’s fair to ask: What’s our strategy for feeding our high-tech economy the metals and minerals it needs to grow? What’s our national plan to cope with the coming Resource Deficit?

Who doubts that Obama and his highly informed White House advisers have anticipated the problem, and at this very moment are working out a strategy to solve it, starting with a discussion of rare earth minerals with Xi Jinping?

We do.


Question: Are there sources of REEs in the US?

Answer (from Wikipedia): In 2010, the United States Geological Survey released a study which found that the United States had 13 million metric tons of rare earth elements.