After groundbreaking speech admitting the Peak Oil by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, now it is long time due to address supply of Critical Material or Strategic Commodities as we call it here with Lithium and Rare Earths among others. China, Japan and Korea are leading the way and China already controls REE market, Lithium could be next.
"U.S. Hostage to China for rare Earth Minerals Already and Lithium in The Future. Nothing is changing under the sun in the US Corp. so far - America is under the oil lobby stronghold and if you would like to understand the real situation, just talk to the junior miners in Lithium and REE sectors. Chinese, Koreans and Japanese companies are the only one on the road now, buying all available projects in Lithium and REE space.
Facebook is great, but how are we going to drive in five years time? What are we going to eat for that matter with Oil above 150 dollars again?
There is almost no money available now in U.S. or Canada to advance the Lithium and REE exploration, apart from few names everybody is talking about now. The rest of the sector will be funded by the Asian interest in the end."
Securing U.S. critical minerals supplies more than a domestic mining issue
A new U.S. Department of Energy report concludes it is in the United States' economic interests to improve the capacity to finance and mine domestic critical minerals projects.
Author: Dorothy Kosich
Posted: Wednesday , 22 Dec 2010
RENO, NV -
In a long-awaited report, the U.S. Department of Energy has recently released its Critical Minerals Strategy, which advocates ensuring reliable access to critical materials to help the U.S. lead in the new clean energy economy.
The strategy identifies five rare earths metals (dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium and yttrium) as well indium as the most critical elements based on important to clean energy technologies and supply risk.
It also explores eight policy and program areas that could help reduce vulnerabilities and address critical materials needs, including research and development, information gathering, permitting for domestic production, financial assistance for domestic production and processing, stockpiling, recycling, education and diplomacy.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, commended Energy Secretary Steven Chu "for his leadership in producing this comprehensive and useful report identifying the challenges we face as a nation in securing the raw materials vital to the advancement of clean energy."
"Now it's time for the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies to play a similarly constructive rule in confront the mineral supply challenges that could derail the clean energy technology objectives that we also share," Murkowski added.
The outgoing Chairman of the House Sciences and Technology Committee Bart Gordon said the DOE's new strategy "closely reflects the direction laid out in the legislation on rare earths my committee passed through the House last September."
"We should not lose sight of the report's comment that this is more than just a mining issue and we must deal with the entire production, manufacturing and recycling change," he stressed.
The Rare Earths and Critical Materials Revitalization Act of 2010, H.R. 6160, passed the House of Representatives on September 29th and now awaits action from the lame duck Senate.
The DOE report suggests several clean energy technologies-including wind turbines, electric vehicles, photovoltaic cells and fluorescent lighting-use materials at risk of supply disruptions in the short term. The risks will decrease in the medium and long-term.
The document noted clean energy technologies currently constitute about 20% of global consumption of critical materials.
"Sound policies and strategic investments can reduce the risk of supply disruptions, especially in the medium and long term," the study suggested.
The researchers noted that "data with respect to many of the issues considered in this report are sparse."
The agency's strategy with respect to critical materials rests on three main components. First, global supply chains are essential. "This means taking steps to facilitate extraction, processing and manufacturing in the United States, as well as encouraging other nations to expedite alternative supplies."
Second, substitutes must be developed. Third, recycling reuse and more sufficient use "could significantly lower world demand for newly extracted materials," the report suggested.
The DOE determined that permanent magnets used in wind turbines and electric drive vehicles; batteries used in vehicles with electric drive trains; thin films used on photovoltaic cells; and phosphors used in fluorescent lighting necessitate priority attention.
Each relies on critical materials, including rare earth metals, and the demand for each may grow significantly in the short and medium term.
As well as examining rare earths, the DOE also studied minerals critical to domestic manufacturing such as lithium.
China has around 36% of rare earth reserves, Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States members hold 19%, the U.S. has around 13% and Australia has 5%, the DOE said.
"In general each rare earth orebody is unique and requires a site-specific processing system," the DOE noted. "As a result, production costs vary from deposit to deposit based on ore content and mineralogy."
China currently produces at least 95% of global REE, and dropped its exports by 40% in July. The country now exports 30,238 tonnes of Rare Earth Oxides, while world demand is 48,000 tonnes this year.
The U.S. was responsible of around 12% of global rare earths demand in 2009. The country relies on import, but also has become a net exporter of REO equivalents.
Currently economically viable lithium resources are found mainly in South America. "Globally it is more economical to extract lithium in continental brines than in hard rocks or spodumene deposits," the DOE advised.
In 2009 Chile, Australia and China accounted for 78% of global lithium production. The U.S. has only one active lithium brine operation, which is located in Nevada.
The U.S. has been mostly dependent upon lithium imports coming mainly from Chile and Argentina.
Currently most cobalt is produced as a byproduct of nickel and copper mining. The Democratic Republic of the Congo produces 40% of global cobalt as a byproduct and holds about half of the world's identified cobalt reserves.
The leading global producers of refined cobalt are China (39%), Finland (15%), and Canada (8%). The U.S. has not mined cobalt since 1971 and has not refined cobalt since 1985. The country is currently about 75% import dependent upon cobalt coming from Norway, Russia and China.
Several projects are under development that will produce cobalt in this country including the Idaho Cobalt Project, the Eagle Project nickel-copper mine in Michigan, and the NorthMet Project copper-nickel-PGM mine in Minnesota.
World resources of gallium in bauxite are estimated to exceed 1 billion kilograms and the DOE suggests "a considerable quantity could be present in world zinc reserves." However, only a small amount of this metal is economically recoverable globally.
The DOE observed that the U.S. represents about 25% of the global annual consumption and gallium, which it imports from Germany, Canada, China and the Ukraine.
U.S. bauxite deposits contain 15 million kilograms of gallium, while some domestic zinc ores also contain as much as 50 ppm gallium, which the DOE suggested may be a significant resource.
Global primary production is indium is widely distributed because it is a byproduct of a number of industrial minerals. Indium is recovered almost exclusively as a byproduct of zinc production. The U.S. has been 100% dependent on imports for indium since 1972, with current indium imports coming from China, Japan and Canada, the report noted.
Half of indium refined takes place in China, followed by South Korea and Japan. China is expected to continue to tighten its indium exports to meet growing domestic demand.
Used in the production of high-performance solar cells, the demand for cadmium telluride solar cells continues to increase. The United States' principal tellurium import sources are China, Belgium and Canada.
U.S. MINING AND MINERAL PRODUCTION
The Department of Energy advised, "The United States has a strong national interest in enhancing capacity for domestic production and manufacturing of critical materials, which will help diversify the supply chain for certain materials.
In their report, the DOE noted that obtaining the permits necessary to open a U.S. takes on average 7-10 years, the longest among the top 25 mining countries. In contrast Australian approvals average 1 to 2 years.
"Since the permitting processing is often cited as one of the principal barriers to new mining ventures in the United States, a more coordinated and predictable regulatory process could encourage investment in new mines and eventually contribute to diversifying the global supply chain," the DOE advised.
Meanwhile, the agency suggested that if there is a national interest in developing U.S. capacity to produce rare earth metals and other critical materials domestically, "it may be worth analyzing whether some type of price support system is appropriate."
Interestingly, however, the DOE Strategy advised against U.S. stockpiling of critical materials for potential use in commercial clean energy technologies at this time. Instead, the agency said it can encourage industry to increase private stocks and inventories.
The DOE also suggested that, to help improve transparency in markets for critical materials, it may require sustained U.S. diplomatic engagement with other countries.
"It is in the interest of both China and the United States to promote globally diverse, sustainable and economical supplies of clean energy materials for future use by both countries," the agency asserted, adding the DOE intends to work with China and other countries on these issues.