The darker side of solar power – by Konrad Yakabuski (Globe and Mail – May 28, 2015)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

The Saudi Arabian oil minister’s recent comment that the world’s largest petroleum producer sees a postfossil-fuel world in which his country becomes a solar-power superpower must have comforted climate activists that even the worst offenders can come around. After all, what could be more redemptive than turning abandoned oil fields into solar farms?

Solar power’s image as “clean” and “limitless” has led princes and politicians alike to dole out huge subsidies to bask in its glow. Under the 2009 Green Energy Act, Ontario agreed to pay solar power operators as much as 10 times the market rate for the electricity they produce under 20-year contracts.

Not satisfied with risk-free deals that will make many solar players rich at consumers’ expense, Ontario’s solar industry is now lobbying for even more. And it’s leveraging solar’s apple-pie image to press politicians into giving it what it wants.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) released a poll purporting to show that three-quarters of Ontarians “would like to see the government invest more in solar powered electricity and in technologies that enable solar power.”

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Mining Investments in Chile to Soar Over the Next Decade – by Anne Lu (International Business Times – June 11 2015)

Chile will continue to be the most attractive Latin American country to foreign mining investors, as mining investments in the country are expected to reach a value of about US$64 billion [$82 billion] by 2025, said state copper commission Cochilco.

Cochilco head Alex Matute Johns noted that Chile’s copper output is expected to jump up to around eight million tons per year by 2025. He also predicted that foreign investments would soar from US$23 billion last year to about US$28 billion by 2017. State-owned copper giant Codelco is expected to carry out 47 percent of Chile’s portfolio of planned mining investments.

But aside from copper, Chile is also a top producer of titanium, with the likes of White Mountain Titanium Corporation (OTCQB: WMTM) operating in northern Chile’s Atacama region. Its flagship Cerro Blanco project currently consists of 41 registered mining exploitation concessions and 34 mining exploration concessions over approximately 17,041 hectares of mineral sand. As of March 2015, nine prospects have been identified along a four-kilometre strike length, with an estimated rutile resource of 112 million tonnes at 1.73 percent titanium dioxide and 69 million tonnes at 1.37 percent titanium dioxide.

Another Chilean mining company, Mineria Activa, aims to develop Chile’s rare earth minerals market based on a recent survey that showed that there are major concentrations of neodymium and dysprosium south of Chile’s capital, Santiago.

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The uncomfortable choice with solar power and raw material sourcing – by Chris Berry ( – June 8, 2015)

Chris is a well-known writer, speaker, and analyst. He is the co-author of The Disruptive Discoveries Journal ( and focuses much of his time on energy metals – those metals or minerals used in the generation or storage of energy.

Despite the hope and promise that solar power holds out as a cleaner source of long-term electricity generation, it is not without its problems. As the price of solar power continues to fall based on increased scale of production and innovation, these advances are underpinned by something often overlooked – a reliable source of raw materials.

When you’re using your computer or phone, do you ever stop and think about the source of the minerals and materials which provide the technology we often take for granted? So it is with solar power.

Every day we open the newspaper and read an article about another consumer or business adopting solar technology based on increasingly competitive economics. But how are these economics achieved? This is an often overlooked question and has recently become more important.

In recent years, China, the “workshop of the world”, has offered low labour costs (though this is changing) and raw materials for high-value products have been sourced from Asia and Africa, in particular – areas with relatively lax environmental standards.

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Chileans Bet Apple Will Pay a Premium for Clean Rare Earths – by Eduardo Thomson (Bloomberg News – June 2, 2015)

The future of rare-earth minerals used in everything from iPhones to Tomahawk missiles lies under the pine plantations of southern Chile, and in a secret formula, according to closely held junior miner Mineria Activa.

Elements such as neodymium and dysprosium are contained in clays near the city of Concepcion in concentrations similar to those found in southern China, which has all but cornered global supply until now. The similarities end there, Arturo Albornoz, who heads Activa’s Biolantanidos project, said in an interview.

While operations in China typically pump ammonium sulfate into the ground and wait for the chemical to seep out with the minerals, at Biolantanidos the plan is to dig out the clay, put it through a tank-leaching process with biodegradable chemicals and return it cleaned to the ground, replanting pine and eucalyptus trees.

It may be laborious, but Albornoz is hoping companies such as ThyssenKrupp AG, Apple Inc. and Tomahawk cruise missile maker Raytheon Co. will end up paying a premium, knowing their suppliers aren’t destroying the planet.

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Lifton says forget the Wall Street Journal on rare earths. – by Jack Lifton ( – June 1, 2015)

Yesterday’s (May 31’s) Wall Street Journal had a really poor article about the impending fate of Molycorp, bankruptcy from failure to meet payment on debts, as it reflects, in the WSJ’s opinion, the rare earth market(s).

The rare earth share market “mania” that began in the USA in 2007 when a group of funds and an entrepreneur bought the defunct, moribund, and on “care and maintenance” Molycorp from Chevron with the stated purpose of bringing it back into production was an attempt to “get ahead” of the “market” as then perceived by this group.

This original core group of Molycorp investors had noted that a rapidly growing demand for the rare earths in high tech consumer goods was going to have to depend on the tumultuous but unpredictable (with regard to the impact of governance by the state as well as private interests) Chinese domestic economy, because at that time (as it remains today) China was the overwhelmingly largest producer of the rare earths.

Today Molycorp has failed as a business even though it has raised and spent between 2 and 3 billion dollars to re-start its California mine and base-level separation facility.

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Molycorp Struggles to Survive Rare-Earths Bubble – by John W. Miller (Wall Street Journal – May 31, 2015)

U.S. rare-earths miner is expected to skip loan payment, which could lead to bankruptcy filing

MOUNTAIN PASS, Calif.—In the dusty mountains of the California-Nevada border, 4,800 feet above sea level, the U.S.’s only miner and processor of rare-earths elements is struggling to squeeze a profit out of its small open-pit mine and plant.

On Monday, Molycorp Inc. said it would skip a $32.5 million loan payment, triggering a 30-day grace period that could lead to a bankruptcy filing before the end of June.

The company is trying to survive one of the biggest commodity bubbles in economic history. Five years ago, export restrictions by China, the world’s dominant supplier, and a global political spat inflated the value of rare earths—15 elements used as niche ingredients in magnets, batteries, catalytic converters and other high-tech products—and propelled Molycorp’s stock-market value to over $6 billion.

Since then, rare-earths prices have been on a long slide downward. Now with a market capitalization of around $150 million, Molycorp is indebted and unprofitable. Customers are putting in orders, but the company hasn’t met production targets at Mountain Pass, and is in restructuring talks with firms representing its creditors.

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Got copper? New pentagon report spotlights key role of critical metals – by Daniel McGroarty (The Hill – April 12, 2015)

A new national security report has just been released: The 2015 National Defense Stockpile Requirements Report documents projected shortfalls in various metals, minerals and materials required for the U.S. defense industrial base and, in this day of dual-use technologies, the “essential civilian economy.”

In all, the new report details shortfalls that, in classified crises scenarios, would affect 30 metals and minerals – about 1/3 of the naturally occurring elements in the Periodic Table. Many of the metals and minerals used in U.S. defense applications aren’t exactly household names. There’s bismuth, used in defense thermo-electrics to capture ‘waste heat” and channel it back into weapons systems power sources. Weapons builders need iridium – used in aircraft engines, satellites and rocket propulsion– as an alternative to America’s present reliance on Russian supply.

In the case of tellurium, used in thermal imaging and navigation systems, present tellurium production, already sharply limited, will soon drop to zero, increasing U.S. dependency on China, Russia and Japan. Rhenium and molybdenum are essential to high-performance alloys used in jet turbines and other defense systems – as is more cobalt, used in jet engine super-alloys and samarium-cobalt permanent magnets. As the Pentagon study notes:

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What 60 Minutes Got Wrong About Rare Earths And China – by Tim Worstall (Forbes Magazine – March 23, 2015)

Last night 60 Minutes ran a segment on how American industry, and more importantly, the American defense industry, is prostrate before a Chinese monopoly of rare earths production. This is of course very worrying for all sorts of Very Serious People and something no doubt should be done.

There is a slight problem with the analysis 60 Minutes presented though: that problem being that their analysis was wrong. And I say this as someone who works in that rare earth industry, someone who has, at times, been a near monopoly supplier of one of the rare earths and, even, a supplier to the US defense industry of non-Chinese rare earths.

Here are the most important lines in the 60 Minutes report:

But trouble is once again looming for the U.S. rare earth industry. Since restarting operations two years ago, Molycorp’s mountain pass mine has yet to turn a profit, and so deeply in debt that just last week, its own auditor warned it may not be able to stay in business.

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Molycorp Inc at risk of financial collapse, signalling fall of rare earth industry – by Peter Koven (National Post – March 18, 2015)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

North America’s flagship rare earth mining company is at risk of collapse, a symbol of how far the entire industry has fallen from its highs a few years ago.

Molycorp Inc. warned on Monday night that it may not be able to continue as a going concern if it can’t fix its balance sheet. The Colorado-based company has US$1.7 billion of debt, including US$206.5 million of convertible notes that mature in June of 2016. It is bleeding cash from operations and is not in a position to meet its future obligations. Its cash position was down to US$212 million at the end of December.

“We are focused on this issue and have retained financial and other advisers to assist us in strengthening our current financial position,” chief financial officer Michael Doolan said on a conference call.

The stock plunged 35% on Tuesday to close at just US48¢, giving Molycorp a market value of US$117 million. It is a stunning fall for a company that was worth almost US$80 a share at its peak in 2011, and acquired Canadian firm Neo Material Technologies Inc. for US$1.3 billion.

Molycorp went public in 2010, a period when prices for rare earth metals like dysprosium and neodymium were sky high.

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The supermaterial that could launch a revolution – by Joseph Hall (Toronto Star – February 7, 2015)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Graphene, a material that can be derived from the lead in an ordinary pencil, is on the cusp of transforming everything from touchscreens to tennis rackets.

In a lab off of a shaft-like corridor below the University of Toronto’s old Lassonde Mining Building, PhD student Changhong Cao is employing some strikingly humble equipment: Scotch Tape.

Surrounded by a nuclear microscope and high-powered computers, the mechanical engineer uses the Christmas wrapping staple to peel off the top layers from a square of graphite the size of a Scrabble tile.

That’s the same sort of carbon-based graphite at the centre of every ordinary pencil you’ve ever used. Then, repeatedly folding fresh segments of the tape over the captured graphite smudge, Cao peels off more and more of the carbon layers originally deposited on the sticky surface.

The resulting material — known as graphene — is the strongest on Earth and may now be on the cusp of transforming the world.

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Rare earths and China’s self-correcting folly – Alan Beattie (Financial Time – January 8, 2015)

This week, a trade war that was supposed to tear the world of high-tech manufacturing apart ended peacefully, quietly and with few casualties.

China announced plans that would comply with a WTO decision from last year by removing export quotas and other restrictions on rare earth elements (REEs), the minerals used widely in the manufacture of electronics, computers and cars. It was another success for the US, which has not only chalked up a series of impressive wins against China in the WTO’s dispute settlement process but also (by no means a given) often succeeded in getting Beijing to implement the decisions.

So, a big victory for global governance? Huzzah for the international rule of law, and a celebratory round of Dan Drezners? Sort of. In reality, it was the free market as much as trade rules that did for China’s attempt to corner global commerce in rare earths. Moreover, in a rather choice irony, Chinese companies employed the very tricks that they use to sidestep trade restrictions by other governments to sabotage the export quotas set by their own.

By 2010, China produced 97 per cent of the world’s basic rare earth oxide production and much of the processing business. In its submission to the WTO, Beijing laughably argued that a complex system of export restrictions it had placed on its REE companies since the mid-2000s was aimed at protecting the environment by controlling mining.

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New tech-dependent nations desperate for non-Chinese REE sources – by Dorothy Kosich ( – November 11, 2014)

In recent years, Chinese production has accounted for about 95% of the REE global market.

RENO (MINEWEB) – The U.S. Geological Survey has released a report, which supports scientific research to determine where undiscovered/undeveloped resources of rare-earth elements may occur, as well as trends in the supply and demand of rare-earth elements domestically and internationally.

Because of the many important uses of REEs, nations dependent on new technologies, such as Japan, the United States and members of the European Union, which now must rely on Chinese REE exports, are encouraging discoveries of economic REE deposits and bringing them into production, says the Geological Survey.

“Most REEs are not as rare as the group’s name suggests,” says the new report, The Rare Earth Elements—Vital to Modern Technologies and Lifestyles. “Cerium is the most abundant REE, and is more common in the Earth’s crust than copper or lead.”

“All of the REEs, except promethium, are more abundant on average in the Earth’s crust than silver, gold, or platinum. However, concentrated and economically minable deposits of REEs are unusual,” according to the Geological Survey.

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Quebec First Nations petition province to include rare earths under uranium ban – by Henry Lazenby ( – November 6, 2014)

TORONTO ( – A group of Quebec- and Labrador-based First Nations would like to see the Quebec government include rare earth elements in the same moratorium currently in force for uranium.

The Quebec government had decreed a moratorium on issuing exploration, development or mining permits for uranium projects in the province on March 28, 2013, until an independent study of the impacts of uranium was completed.

The Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), which currently represented 43 tribal chiefs, said, during an assembly last month, the First Nations resolved to support the Eagle Village and Wolf Lake Algonquin First Nations in opposing Canadian firm Matamec Explorations’ proposed Kipawa rare earths project on First Nation reserve lands.

The AFNQL noted that it would communicate its position to the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), which was holding public hearings this month on the uranium industry in Quebec.

The local opposition to uranium exploration and mining had all but snuffed out the provincial industry, exemplified by uranium project developer Strateco Resources in June, when it mothballed its flagship Matoush project, in the Otish Mountains, after spending more than $123-million.

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Moon exploration will reduce the shortage of rare earth metals – by Aram Ter-Ghazaryan (Russia Beyond the Headlines – October 26, 2014)

Russian scientists are already referring to the Moon as a hub for flights to other planets. However, the main goal in exploring Earth’s satellite is to expand the production of rare earth metals.

As part of the Federal Space Program, Moon exploration operations will be launched in 2016. In 2018 the first spacecraft will be sent to the Moon to deliver comet material back to Earth. A manned flight is scheduled for 2030-2031. Future plans include the mining of rare earth metals required for the development of high-tech industries.

Looking for comet substances on the lunar south pole

Scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Moscow State University Sternberg Astronomical Institute and the Russian Federal Space Agency are participating in this Moon exploration project.

The first spacecraft to be sent to the Moon will be relatively simple. According to Vladislav Shevchenko, the Sternberg Institute’s Head of the Department of Lunar and Planetary Research, this is because the Russian space program has not carried out a Moon landing for over 40 years.

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Analysis Iron ore and rare earth metals mining: an industry under siege? – by Wayne Visser (The Guardian – October 24, 2014)

Resource scarcity and human rights issues surrounding metals extraction, coupled with unrelenting global demand mean the industry is facing some tough realities

The good news: the number of people living in extreme poverty could drop from 1.2 billion in 2010 to under 100 million by 2050, according to UN projections. The bad news is that the flotilla of hope currently rising on the tide of economic growth in emerging countries is at serious risk of being dragged down under the waves. The reason is growing resource scarcity and the environmental disasters that could ensue.

As always, the poorest will be worst affected. The UNDP projects that, under an environmental disaster scenario, instead of reducing the population living in extreme poverty in south Asia from over half a billion to less than 100m by 2050, it could rise to 1.2bn. In sub-Saharan Africa, the numbers may rise from under 400m to over a billion. For the world as a whole, an environmental disaster scenario could mean 3.1 billion more people living in extreme poverty in 2050, as compared with an accelerated development scenario.

The message is simple: unless these booming economies – and the high-income countries they churn out ‘widgets’ for – can lighten the weighty anchor of resource consumption, we will all, sooner or later, get that sinking feeling. To illustrate the point, demand for steel – driven in no small part by a global car fleet doubling to 1.7bn by 2030 – is expected to increase by about 80% from 1.3bn tonnes in 2010 to 2.3bn tonnes in 2030. These trends raise red flags about material shortages of many metals in the future.

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