Rare Earths Supply Challenges

A New York Times article (February 19,2011, B5) summarizes a report published by the American Physical Society (http://aps.org/policy/reports/popa-reports/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=236337) on energy critical materials mainly rare earths (tellurium, gallium. indium, germanium, lithium). They highlight a few issues (a) these rare earths are byproducts of other mining e.g., tellurium (a 30 million volume) is a byproduct of copper ($ 80 billion industry). Thus increased tellurium is unlikely unless better extraction approaches are developed, (b) Mining for rare earths may also bring up radioactive materials such as uranium and thorium, whose concentrations are low so they end up creating environmental issues.  Projecting future demand for these materials in alternate energy devices (batteries and solar cells) suggests the need to find new sources, develop technologies and recycle.  Is there a need for government intervention to resolve the global supply problem ? Will global supply chains of companies adjust to respond using a combination of price signals, outsourcing agreements and R&D to recover and decrease use of these materials ? Is there a strategic need to subsidize these sources in an effort to attain sustainable manufacturing goals ?

 

About aviyer2010

Professor
This entry was posted in Global Contexts, Supply Chain Issues, Sustainability and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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