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Rare Earths, Hardrock Production Crucial to Clean Energy Expansion

As Published by Western Business Roundtable/Land Letter

The United States must revive production of rare earths and other hardrock minerals if it hopes to continue its transition to renewable energy and other low-carbon technologies, according to a panel of mining experts convening this week in Phoenix. Industry leaders are warning of an impending shortage of rare earths and other minerals crucial to the manufacturing of wind turbines, hybrid-electric vehicles and energy-efficient light bulbs if the United States fails to boost domestic mining.

"You don't have these things without the material that comes out of the ground first," said Robert Noll, sales manager at Molycorp Minerals LLC, which plans to resume extraction of rare earths at its Mountain Pass mine in the California's Mojave Desert by 2011.

China currently produces more than 97 percent of the world's rare earth elements, including ones such as lanthanum, which is used to manufacture the nickel-metal hydride batteries in the Toyota Prius, and dysprosium, which provides lighter magnets for wind turbines.

It also holds a virtual monopoly on production of Europium, the chemical that produces red color in television monitors and LED used for energy-efficient light bulbs.

Recent reports that China is seeking to eliminate exports of its scarcer rare earths and curb exports of others has ignited fears of a worldwide shortage and shored up support for proposals like Mountain Pass.

"The supply chain for all of these minerals is very much at risk," Noll said during a presentation at the Business Summit of the West.

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