Does a Green Speed Bump Block the Road to Energy Independence?????? In this remarkable and remarkably unwelcome opinion piece, my good friend Robert Bryce, author of Power Hungry, explains why the subsidization of green technologies that are dependent on rare earth elements should not be justified as pathway toward energy independence, and in fact, could actually make the US more dependent on foreign energy related imports.
October 29, 2010
By Robert Bryce
Real Clear Science
Over the past few months, industry and government officials in the U.S. and Japan have been increasingly alarmed as China, which has a near-monopoly on rare earths, has reduced its exports of those elements by some 40 percent. Adding yet more anxiety to the situation are projections about a possible shortfall in the supply of these elements. London-based Roskill Consulting Group, a research firm that specializes in metals and minerals, recently predicted that demand for rare earths could outstrip supply as soon as 2014. Rare earths are important because they have special features at the quantum mechanics level that allow them to have unique magnetic interactions with other elements. A myriad of “green” technologies — from electric and hybrid-electric cars to wind turbines and compact fluorescent light bulbs – depend on rare earths. And there are no cost-effective substitutes for them.
Clinton’s willingness to question China about rare earths is indicative of just how seriously the U.S. is taking the rare earths issue. But it also underscores a fundamental miscalculation by the U.S. and other countries when it comes the reconfiguration of their automotive fleets.
Over the last few years, a growing number of environmentalists and national security hawks have teamed up to denounce America’s dependence on foreign oil. Their solution: all-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles. Those vehicles, they insist, will help the environment while reducing oil imports from countries in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere.
While that vision appeals to certain segments of the political class and to a myriad of subsidy-seeking corporations, the push to build more electric and hybrid cars will simply result in the U.S. trading one type of import dependence for another.
Those vehicles might cut oil consumption but they will dramatically increase America’s thirst for rare earth elements. And therein lies a crucial choice: We can continue to rely on the liquidity, price transparency, and diversity of the global oil market, the biggest market in human history. Or we can choose the “green” route. And in doing so, we will have no choice but to rely on the market for lanthanides, which is rife with smuggling, has no price transparency, and depends almost wholly on a single producer, China.
The Chinese control about 95 percent of the global market in rare earths, a group of 17 elements that includes scandium, yttrium, and the 15 lanthanides, the elements that occupy the second-to-last row of the Periodic Table. The most famous of the lanthanides is probably neodymium, a critical ingredient in the high-strength magnets used in motor-generators in hybrid cars and wind turbines.
Phi Beta Iota: This is a perfect example of what happens when a government is both ideologically driven and therefore not intelligence-driven, and when a government lacks a strategic analytic model that can clearly demonstrate how what might be good for one part of the system is bad for other parts of the system. This is called system INTEGRITY. Not only is the US bankrupt, according to the last Comptroller General to brief Congress on the subject in 2007, David Walker, but what the US government is borrowing and spending on in our name makes no sense at all from a public interest point of view.