Minerals in, Minerals out — The U.S. vs. China

Rare earth minerals are crucial in making cell phones, computers, even wind turbines — they’re a key component of electronics and China’s got lots of them.

Recently though, as NPR reports, China’s been cutting down on its exports of rare earth minerals. They’ve become so expensive to U.S. manufacturers that it’s once again profitable for some companies to reopen their mining sites here. One such site is in the desert in California, called Mountain Pass and operated by Molycorp Minerals.

What’s fascinating to me is that the U.S. may end up exporting minerals to China if they start using theirs up — and at this pace, it’s possible. Also, Molycorp is cleaning up its operation. At first I wondered why a corporation would ever be prompted to clean things up, unprompted by regulation, but then I realized that it’s a cost lowering measure.

The mining site will create 40,000 tons a year of rare earth minerals — I know from the story that there’s at least a 100,000 ton gap in terms of what China creates and the global demand. This sounds like a good thing for the U.S. — but will it bring jobs? And what about the environment? Will we insist that other mining sites use cleaner processes as well?

Photo c/o oskay

About emilyfro

Emily Frost is a radio reporter and online journalist. She is an Annenberg Fellow at USC’s Annenberg Graduate School for Journalism and a producer at Annenberg Radio News.
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