Tuesday, September 01, 2009

More hybrids = more MINING of rare earth elements

How long before greenies file suit to stop this new mine in California?


Worldwide demand for rare earths, covering 15 entries on the periodic table of elements, is expected to exceed supply by some 40,000 tonnes annually in several years unless major new production sources are developed. One promising U.S. source is a rare earths mine slated to reopen in California by 2012.

Among the rare earths that would be most affected in a shortage is neodymium, the key component of an alloy used to make the high-power, lightweight magnets for electric motors of hybrid cars, such as the Prius, Honda Insight and Ford Focus, as well as in generators forwind turbines.

Close cousins terbium and dysprosium are added in smaller amounts to the alloy to preserve neodymium's magnetic properties at high temperatures. Yet another rare earth metal, lanthanum, is a major ingredient for hybrid car batteries.

Production of both hybrids cars and wind turbines is expected to climb sharply amid the clamor for cleaner transportation and energy alternatives that reduce dependence on fossil fuels blamed for global climate change.