Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rare Earth - Risky Supply Chain - Part 1

Unless you are a geologist, this is a real slog to get through, but I'm quite sure we are all going to need this information within the next few weeks to months. Then you'll be glad we went through this.

When reviewing this information, please remember that I reported slight differences in statistics about world wide supplies, etc. This from the current article from "Advanced Materials & Processes," August issue keeping in mind that I first reported between 75% and 90% are found in China and there were 30 elements:

"Rare earths comprise a group of fourteen elements that were largely undiscovered when the periodic table of elements was developed. However, they are not rare; they are abundant within the earth's crust. The deposits are generally not deep; and are easy to access through open pit mining...."

So much for consistency. We will have to break this down into two parts since information abounds. We'll look at China and foreign influence tonight and finish with American history, production and patents tomorrow. I'm just going to quote a sentence or so at a time.

"Today nearly 100% of the world;s rare earth metals and over 94% of rare earth oxides come from China." In the last ten years American production has steeply declined.
"China has 85% of hard ferrite and 65% of Alnico and SmCo magnet materials. These facts are significant because magnet materials are the backbone of manufacturing technologies that support U. S. energy and defense markets." ".....intellectual property rights abuses in China resulted in a series of lawsuits in 2003 and 2004 by the two key worldwide patent holders who have cross-licensed over 600 patents in NdFeB technologies."

In sort of an upside down maneuver some license holders sued magnet users such as Walmart, Dell Computer and other retail type sales to try to recoup the nine Chinese licensees and sublicensees to these master patents. "However, as many as one hundred companies in China are now operating in stark contrast to a total lack in the united States."

Lots of shenanigans from production caps plus violation of WTO price controls while prices of some metals rose by a factor of 4 in eighteen months. Export quotas were established along with trading and selling. Export duties rose from 10% to 25% on all rare earth metals. "However, they did not include those used in magnet manufacturing.....China may consume all it produces by the year 2012.

Recycling is non-existent in China. Whereas in the rest of the world casting methods are used, China simply takes a large block and chips off material until they reach the shape they need. Future access may be dependent on agreements to have the manufacturing facilities in China. On April 21, 2008, the U.S. Commerce Dept. imposed a duty of 185.3% on Chinese imports.

On June 24, 2009 the "Wall Street Journal" reported the U.S. and European Union filed complaints with the World Trade Organization that China was unfairly dumping." This was the article which piqued my curiosity at the time. Tomorrow we will continue with the U.S. needs and manufacturing facilities.

Sleep well-
God bless...........

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