A serious lack of rare earth elements is endemically afflicting the world body politic. It has been brought on by a chronic combination of American short sightedness and Chinese need for self survival.
It is well known that rare earths, a group of 17 atomic elements are essential for the survival of cutting edge industry in such diverse areas as nuclear launch missiles hybrid autos, wind turbines, solar devices, oncological applications, night-vision devices and petroleum production.
Once upon a time America was a major source for these substances, but Beijing had the foresight to co-opt this essential nourishment for their own needs. This left the rest of the world fighting for survival. Recently China decreased the circulation of rare earths to the rest of the world by thirty five percent. It is not too late to be waking up to the malady that threatens our economies. We must declare an immediate offensive as a national emergency! The U.S. future security and survival is at stake as our representatives wrote in their letter to the head of our Defense Department. For this purpose a letter has been written on January 28,2011 by three congressional leaders, Murkowski, Begich, and Coffman, to the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.
Remember the U.S. is historically famous for mobilizing initiatives such as the Nuclear Energy Project in Los Alamos and the Federal Strategic Petroleum Reserve stored in gigantic underground salt caverns along the Gulf of Mexico. It is the largest supply of crude oil in the world. A nation that could consummate such wonders should not be daunted by the current challenges. The following treatment protocols are proposed.
1) Diplomatic solutions with Chine are inadequate. They are only a temporary panacea to a long time cure. China’s own needs will soon overwhelm its own production.
2) We must do away with hostile regulations that have driven U.S. manufacturing to foreign shores and prevented mining rare earths in North America.
3) Our federal officials should think of setting up a rare earth reserve similar to the aforementioned Federal Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This would safeguard against the contingency of a supply interruption.
4) At the same time the Obama Administration should work with our legislators to provide incentives for investments required to rebuild our rare earth industry. The lawmakers have to revamp existing regulatory hurdles and support mining companies with heavy rare earth separation needs such as Avalon’s (AVL) Nechalacho rare earth element deposit in Thor Lake, Northwest Territories. Avalon is the most advanced heavy rare earth deposit in North America and is the most advanced towards production after Lynas and Molycorp.
5) Having overcome these obstacles, we will require the scientific expertise needed to transmute this ore into viable commercial realities. This would necessitate the remaking of our entire educational system, emphasizing technology and engineering, mathematics and sciences with scholarships for students entering these areas.
Investors should look for available sources and the companies which are closest to production. Both Lynas(LYSCF) and Molycorp(MCP) are the closest to production but will not be able to satisfy the increased demand as China increases export quotas and will not fulfill the critical heavy rare earths (dysprosium, terbium, yttrium, europium) and neodymium, a critical light rare earth needed for permanent magnets. These permanent magnets are a major part of the clean energy legislation discussed recently during President Obama’s State of the Union address. Terbium one of the pricey heavy rare earths is heavily used in fuel cells.
The importance of our survival of our rare earth resources are a national mandate. As Lincoln wrote, “It is time for us to disenthrall ourselves.” It is time we support meaningful legislation which protects our most important and cutting edge technologies before it is to late. Investors must monitor this situation closely as interest in rare earths is becoming an international geopolitical issue and there may be bidding wars to own mines closest to production. The Western World is rare earth deficient and requires immediate action.
Disclosure: Long LYSCF and Avalon.
By Jeb Handwerger