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Senator Murkowski Addresses TREM11

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April 11, 2011

During TREM11, Senator Lisa Murkowski addressed our delegates. Watch her comments here.



China to Impose Additional Rare Earth Industry Control

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February 16, 2011

The following notice has been posted on the Chinese Government's official webpage:



China will strive to streamline its rare earth industry within five years, said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at an executive meeting of the State Council, China's Cabinet, on Wednesday.

A document released after the meeting said China should accelerate industrial upgrading and technological innovation to protect the environment and save resources.

The industry should maintain rational production and inventory control, make better use of domestic and overseas markets and resources, and have active international cooperation for a healthy and sustainable development.

For that purpose, the nation would establish and improve the supervision framework of laws and rules on the industry, impose stricter mining policies to protect the environment and resources and protection standards for the environment, and make reasonable plans for mining and exports.

Meanwhile, authorities would carry out special campaigns to crack down on illegal mining activities to maintain order in production, further consolidate the industry and promote technological innovation, said the document.

At the meeting, clear demarcation was set out for responsibilities in relevant areas and government agencies, according to the document.

The Ministry of Land and Resources announced last month the establishment of 11 state-managed rare earth mining zones in Ganzhou Prefecture, east China's Jiangxi Province, an area rich in ion-absorbed-type rare earth, to protect resources and the environment.

The 11 mining zones have a combined area of 2,500 square kilometers, with rare earth reserves estimated at 760,000 tonnes.

The ministry also designated two state-managed iron mining zones in Panzhihua, western Sichuan Province. The zones have an area of 460 square kilometers.

As the world's largest rare earth producer and exporter, China provides more than 90 percent of the global rare earth demand, though its reserves account for one third of the world's total.

The Ministry of Commerce said last month that China exported 35,000 tonnes of rare earth from January to November last year, up 14.5 percent from a year earlier.

Rare earth elements are crucial for the production of components used in a variety of high-tech products such as consumer electronics, but their mining is known to be destructive to forests, soil and farmland. The waste released after mining also damages the environment.


OP-ED: The State of the Union? It Depends.

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Originally published on thehill.com

By Yaron Vorona 02/10/11 04:13 PM ET

On Tuesday, President Obama laid out his plan for America: one million electric cars by 2015 and 80% of energy from renewable sources by 2035. “At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else,” he said. Clearly, these industries must be based in America.

Yet there is a problem. We are dependent on China for many of the raw materials that allow us to build electric car motors, low-energy light bulbs, solar photovoltaics, and wind turbines – like rare earth metals.

China needs those resources for itself. President Obama told us that “Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.” China has also surpassed us in terms of wind-generated electricity with 41.8 GW installed, compared with 40.2 GW in the US.

China’s control of rare earth metals is so important that it is taking steps to protect it. Over the past few months, news has broken that the Chinese government is reducing production, shutting down companies, raising export tariffs, lowering export quotas, de facto export bans, and, as leaked on Tuesday, starting a rare earth stockpile.

For good reason, nearly every report on rare earths and China contains Deng XiaoPing’s visionary quote, “The middle east has oil, China has rare earths.” He went on to say, “it is of extremely important strategic significance; we must be sure to handle the rare earth issue properly and make the fullest use of our country's advantage in rare earth resources.”

The world is reacting. According to a new draft paper, the European Union “will continue to pursue barriers hampering the sustainable supply of raw materials to the EU economy.” Their strategy proposals include stockpiling as well.

The UK House of Commons Science & Technology Committee is also starting to investigate. “This inquiry has the potential to be wide-ranging, from concerns about the availability of rare earth elements to how metals are recycled from discarded technological devices,” commented Andrew Miller MP, who chairs the committee.

Japan is developing relationships with potential alternate suppliers in Australia, Vietnam and Mongolia, and has been providing loan guarantees to acquire foreign resources.

Here in the US, our government agencies have been meeting and writing reports at a furious pace. Over the past few months, reports have been circulated by the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Government Accountability Office, Congressional Research Service, and the USGS. Meetings and international discussions have involved the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy and the International Trade Representative.

Reports are just paper, not metals. Words are not enough. The fact remains that renewable energy begins with resources at the mine, and continues on through chemical industries and manufacturing.

Congress must act decisively, not divisively, to support a diverse supply chain for technology metals. This means improving the regulatory environment for domestic mining, refining and manufacturing initiatives. It also means fostering relationships with our international partners to facilitate trade, and eliminating import tariffs for scarce resources. It may even mean providing financial guarantees to important defense and energy companies to acquire resources abroad. Finally, it demands a sustained and concerted investment into research and development to increase efficiency, reduce waste, improve technology, and create a vibrant job market.

President Obama is right when he says, “None of this will be easy. All of it will take time. And it will be harder because we will argue about everything. The costs. The details. The letter of every law.”

In order to avert a full-fledged resource crisis, it is essential for various branches of the US Administration and Congress to work together with industry and international governments, including China, to formulate rational, intelligent policies and share important information.

Yaron Vorona heads the Technology & Rare Earth Metals (TREM) Center at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.




Murkowski, Begich and Coffman Write to Sec. Def.

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On January 28, 2010, Alaskan Sens. Mark Begich (D) and Lisa Murkowski (R) and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates questioning why the Pentagon has yet to compile a comprehensive list of what rare earth minerals the country is most dependent on China for.

China, as we know, controls nearly all of the world's rare earth production.

The Members of Congress write, "new sources may not alleviate supply shortages faced by DOD. Additionally manufacturing capabilities... are virtually non-existent in the United States."

For full text of the letter click here.

TREM11 Brochure Available

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January 31, 2011

We are pleased to publish our brochure for TREM11.


Lithium Contained In Batteries Less than 1% of Cost

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January 19, 2011

A great misconception on lithium ion batteries is that they are so expensive because of the lithium content. In reality, lithium makes up only a tiny proportion of the battery cost.

Here's why:

According to the Wall Street Journal, "Nissan will spend less than $18,000 on the battery, which would mean less than $750 per kilowatt hour, said Mark Perry, the chief product planner for Nissan North America.

"That is below an estimate of the cost of such batteries of $1,000 per kilowatt hour put out by PriceWaterhouse Coopers."

Lets use the Nissan Leaf as an example. The car carries a 24kWh battery, which costs to $18,000 produce.

According to Jon Hykawy, a researcher at Byron Capital Markets, the Nissan Leaf contains about 4kg of lithium metal, equivalent to 21kg of lithium carbonate. According to the USGS [pdf], lithium carbonate in 2009 cost $4.47 per kg. Hykawy states that the price of battery-grade lithium carbonate is actually more like $5.70 per kg.

Thus, the Nissan Leaf contains $120 of lithium carbonate. That's 0.6% of the cost of the battery.

We can generalize and use the PriceWaterhouse Coopers figure of batteries costing $1,000 per kwh. An electric vehicle requires between 1.4-1.5kg of lithium carbonate per kWh, or $8.55. Thus lithium carbonate is less than one percent of the cost of a battery.

Here's how the US Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory puts it:

The actual lithium compound used to make cathode materials, lithium carbonate (Li2CO3), is considerably less expensive. The price history of lithium carbonate is shown in Figure 5.6. The average price reported for lithium carbonate in the United States at the end of 1999 was $4.47/kg ($2.03/lb). However, increased production in Chile and Argentina has led to a recent oversupply, and actual prices paid have been as much as 50% below the list, matching the price of only $0.90/lb from Chile and Argentina. A shutdown of the Argentine production due to process problems caused the price to rise again, but the price was still below list in early 2000 (Ober 2000). Recycled materials and sales from DOE stock put further downward pressure on prices. Large demand for batteries could eventually drive the price up. At the current list price, the lithium carbonate for the batteries in an EV like the Altra would cost about $100, and the material for an HEV battery would cost about $5.


Japan Requests Quota Freeze

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January 6, 2011

According to Reuters, Japanese Trade Minister Akihiro Ohata wants to visit China to discuss rare earths. He said that he would travel to China "as soon as possible. In other words, I'd like to go before the regular parliament session starts (later this month)."

His request, that China keep the second-half rare earth quota at the same level as the first half of 2011, around 15,000 tonnes. In 2010, Japan imported 20,000 tonnes of rare earths.

In order to meet its needs, Japan may end up consuming most of China's rare earth exports, leaving little for the rest of the world. Thus, if Japan gets its requested quota freeze, the rest of the world may be left in the cold.

This issue will be explored further at TREM11, when we will discuss the Geopolitics of Technology Metals.



James Greenberger on the China Opportunity

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January 2, 2011


by James J. Greenberger (Executive Director of the National Alliance of Advanced Technology Batteries, a not-for-profit trade association focused on the manufacture of large format advanced batteries for use in transportation and large scale energy storage applications in the United States.)

Sometime early next year, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is expected to release a plan to make China the world leader in “new energy technology vehicles”.  The plan has long been highly anticipated and parts of it extensively leaked.

The upshot of the plan is that the Chinese government expects to spend upwards of $15 billion over the next ten years, largely to build capacity and infrastructure for electric vehicles.  Somewhat troubling, the plan appears to require any foreign company that wants to sell into the Chinese PEV market do so through a joint venture that is at least 51% Chinese owned.

The Ministry’s plan raises two principal concerns amount U.S. companies.  The first is that if the Chinese government invests $15 billion in vehicle electrification, the U.S. will be left well behind in the race for electric vehicles.  The second is that if the Chinese government only permits majority-owned Chinese companies access to the PEV market, American companies wishing to access that market will be forced into joint ventures to which they will have to contribute, and potentially lose control of, valuable intellectual property and know-how.

The first concern is largely unfounded.  The development of vehicle electrification technology is not a race; it is a boxing match.  More important, it is a boxing match in which there is a third fighter in the ring--and the one at the moment that is winning the fight:   petroleum-fueled vehicles.  U.S. industry should welcome new investment in electrification technology from whatever quarter it comes.  America’s strategy ultimately to win the fight must rely on its traditional strengths in innovation and applied technology.

Those advantages are in no way threatened by short term Chinese investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, even if that investment is disproportionate to what the U.S. is willing and able to invest.

The second concern has greater legitimacy.  The Chinese properly understand that in order to become the world leader in electric vehicle technology it must acquire technology and technological expertise from abroad.  This, again, should pose no concern.  In today’s world technology moves easily across borders; attempts to constrain its transferability are Sisyphusian in nature.  And who would want it otherwise?

After all, technology is what we in the United States have to sell.

The issue is simply one of price.  Using the joint venture requirement to acquire more intellectual property and know-how than China would acquire if it simply bought product directly from foreign suppliers is nothing more than attempt to decrease the cost to China of acquiring the technology it seeks.  It is one of the oldest  tactics in the bazaar.  We should not be offended or scared or storm out of the bazaar in outrage, but simply recognize the tactic for what it is.

Of course, someone does have to bargain back.  Only tourists take the first offer.  In the case of the United States, that will need to be the federal government in some form.  After all, the federal government has largely funded the development of much of the technology that China would like to acquire and in our free market economy no entity other than the federal government has the necessary leverage to bargain against another government entity.

But the federal government needs to remember that trade is a good thing.  Cutting a deal in the bazaar leaves both parties better off than before.  We should not hesitate to cut deals with our new, and potentially best, trading partner, China, in the areas of PEV’s and PEV-related technology.  Just keep in mind that China has few thousand years head start on us in the tactics of the bazaar.   Let’s not be tourists.

Further Cuts to Chinese Export Quotas

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December 29, 2010

China has cut export quotas for the first half of 2011 by 35% according to a report on the Wall Street Journal.

"We are very concerned about China's export restraints on rare-earth materials," a spokeswoman from the U.S. Trade Representative's office said Tuesday. "We have raised our concerns with China and we are continuing to work closely on the issue."

Quotas for the first half of next year will total 14,508 metric tons, down about 35% from a year earlier, China's Commerce Ministry said Tuesday. According to rare earth expert, Dudley Kingsnorth, who will be presenting at TREM11 in March, China will have produced around 120,000 tons of rare earths in 2010. He estimates that worldwide demand will increase from 124,000 tons in 2008 to 170-190,000 tons in 2014.

Earlier this year, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce stated that quotas would remain largely unchanged in 2011.

Shipments of rare-earth metals will be capped at 10,762 tons for 22 approved Chinese companies and at 3,746 tons for 10 approved foreign companies and joint ventures with foreign partners, according to the ministry's website. That represents 34% and 37% declines, respectively.

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