By on July 22, 2009

There’s no doubt about it: the automotive landscape is changing. Carmakers around the globe are embracing electric propulsion, whether the volts are generated by a gasoline motor, a fuel cell, a distant power plant or a combination thereof. New companies seem to be springing up overnight to take advantage of the government’s desire (and money) to wean motorists from their petrochemical “addiction.”  While everyone rushes to produce politically-correct powerplants, one fundamental question that remains largely unexamined: from where will manufacturers secure the raw materials needed to mass produce this new technology?

Back in the good old bad old days, cars were literally lumps of iron. The bodies were made from steel. The engines from cast iron. Even as new features were added, the primary raw materials remained ore-based. New-fangled electrical accessories like starters, power windows, power seats and stereos brought copper into that mix. As metallurgical science progressed, aluminum and its alloys entered the mass market mix. No problem there: aluminum is the most abundant metallic element on earth. It’s lightweight and eminently recyclable (today’s beer can is tomorrow’s bumper). Dropping market prices continue to move the metal from exotic cars to daily drivers.

Along with various materials derived from petrochemicals, modern cars are made from iron, steel, aluminum and copper. Manufacturers use other metals (e.g., magnesium) in structural and other applications, but The Big Four reign supreme.

In the 1960s, a research effort between the Air Force and General Motors made a discovery: if you combine the rare earth element neodymium with boron and iron you can make incredibly strong magnets. These magnets are mission critical for the compact-yet-powerful motors used in today’s gas-electric hybrid vehicles. “Doping” the magnets with a bit of dysprosium (another rare earth metal) makes them even more effective, helping them withstand the automotive application’s high operating temperatures.

Industry expert Jack Lifton estimates that manufacturing the battery pack of a second generation Prius required 60 pounds of assorted rare earth metals. And there’s more. Carmakers use rare earths for catalytic converters, computer chips, UV-filtering glass, LCD screens and solar panels. In fact, many of the new technologies that inform advanced vehicles owe their existence—one way or another— to rare earths.

Thankfully, rare earths aren’t that rare. China has huge deposits of rare earth ores and (until very recently) little regard for the environmental impact of mining and refining them. In 2007, China exported 49k tons of rare earth products, down 14.93 percent. BUT the export value surged 51 percent to $1.179 billion. In 1992, Deng Xiaoping stated “There is oil in the Middle East. There are rare earths in China. We must take full advantage of this resource.” And so they have.

The U.S. used to be the world’s biggest producer of rare earths. That ended in the ’90s when the Mountain Pass mining operation in California shut down due to “market pressure” (i.e., cheap Chinese product). Environmental regulations also helped seal the mine’s fate; rare earth mining can produce some pretty nasty byproducts like thorium.

And so the Chinese rare earth industry has grown unchallenged to the point where it essentially owns the market.  Molycorp recently reopened the Mountain Pass operation. There are efforts underway to develop mines in Canada, Australia (where Chinese companies just bought big portions of two Aussie mining companies), Vietnam and India. As of now, none of these future mines offers significant competition to China’s efforts to dominate the rare earth market.

Adding to the problem: while there are mines producing rare earth ores and oxides elsewhere, China’s the only one country on earth where the ores are refined into the rare earth metals. For the time being, no matter where the rare earth materials are mined, the production pipeline flows through—and is controlled by—China.

So far, China hasn’t tried playing silly buggers with rare earth prices, as OPEC has been known to do with oil. However, any company that manufactures anything using rare earths is at the mercy of the Chinese government’s production and pricing.

China has raised the export tax on some rare earth metals as high as 25 percent. Foreign companies aren’t allowed to invest in exploration and mining. There are limits on foreign involvement in ore processing. Industries that use rare earth metals are “encouraged” to produce their end product there.

Because China hasn’t curtailed supplies (i.e., raised prices significantly), there’s no interest in recycling rare earths from discarded autos. When that wrecked hybrid is sent to the crusher, the copper, iron and aluminum in it will be recovered. The rare earth metals will not.

As the government pushes the automakers to improve mileage and cut emissions, they’re practically demanding carmakers produce electric or hybrid-electric vehicles. Even though the government and industry know how important these rare earths are critical to their environmental goals, they’ve failed to consider the potential impact of a “rare earth” gap, trusting that the free market will provide the required raw materials at a cost-effective price.

For now, yes. In the future, who knows?

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

45 Comments on “Editorial: The Truth About Rare Earths and Hybrids...”


  • avatar
    vww12

    Demand shall create its own supply.

    If China becomes uncooperative, rare minerals will be found and exploited elsewhere, yeah, even in US territories…

    … unless the US decides to prohibit its explotaition, much less its exploration, as currently it forbids exploration for oil under most US seas.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    This is something that people often forget in their quest to be “green;” that it takes resources to build a vehicle, hybrid or not. Often one could make an argument that keeping a current gas-guzzler is more environmentally-friendly than the impact of building a new one.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    This is the biggest reason that I am still skeptical of hybrids as a long term, or even medium term, solution to automotive fuel needs. During the cold war days no one would have considered relying on the USSR for critical elements in our transportation infrastructure, and now China is poised to become even more powerful than the USSR was back then. Assuming North Korea doesn’t get an itchy trigger finger, a huge Chinese revolution doesn’t take place, or China doesn’t decide to try to take a forceful hand to Taiwan and get smacked down by the rest of the world, China could become a dominant economic powerhouse.

    Aside from the rare-earths, hybrids also consume tons of nickel for the NiMH batteries, and will have a similar appetite for Lithium if the lithium ion switchover takes place. Hydrogen fuel cells have a demand for platinum and/or palladium, another set of very finite and expensive resources.

    Investing in diesel based biofuels, which are far more economically viable than ethanol, and could lead to completely renewable fuel for the entire country, should be our goal, not in finding new ways to slow our use of oil, which we purchase from foreign nations, through the use of rare materials we must also purchase from foreign nations.

  • avatar
    RedStapler

    +1 on the Biodiesel.

    What about hydraulic hybrids? Simply a new application of a simple existing tech. There are few potential supply chain choke points in their manufacture.

    Hydraulics are workable in any vehicle from full size pickup on up. They really excel in urban stop in go applications like a UPS package car or refuse collection vehicle.

  • avatar
    postman

    One of these days, all of the outsourcing of labor and resources is really going to bite us in the ass. And more likely sooner than later.

  • avatar
    tced2

    For lithium-ion batteries, one of the primary sources of lithium is Bolivia.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Buzzdog – – +1

    This is why keeping my 93 Crown Victoria on the road is a more efficient use of resources than buying a new Prius. How do we know? Because it costs less.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    This is the biggest reason that I am still skeptical of hybrids as a long term, or even medium term, solution to automotive fuel needs.

    Most of the rare-earth metals that are being attributed to hybrids and EVs in this article aren’t unique to hybrids. Outside of the battery pack and motors, much of the rare earth metals used are common between a hybrid/EV and a normal car.

    Have a look at the diagram above. While it uses a Prius, you could sub in any car—even our precious diesels—and the same points apply.

    This editorial comes dangerously close to making the same logical errors that the CNW Dust-to-Dust study did: equating rare-earth mineral usage exclusively with automobilia, just as CNW equated nickel use exclusively with the Prius. Remember the asinine “Sudbury looks like the moon because of nickel mining”, ignoring that a) Sudbury hasn’t looked like that in twenty years and b) the Prius hadn’t been around more than five years at the time. Rare-earth metals are consumed by the semiconductor and electronics industries in huge quantities outside of automobilia.

    It also ignores that rare-earth recycling and disposal technologies do exist and are ramping up. Batteries are recycled en masse and have been for at least half a decade. Some rare-earth minerals found in cars are so valuable that people are stealing parts. And finally, people grumble about taxes and fees for disposal (eg, Ontario’s EEE program) but these fees exist specifically to fund recycling and recovery—and for once, we’re not externalizing the cost!

    I don’t think that finger-pointing at hybrids is the solution. We’re going to have to get the hang of conserving resources, no matter how costly, inconvenient or communistic it might seem.

  • avatar
    JackLifton

    Robert,

    An excellent editorial. I do have one complaint, though. I was going to write a piece later this week called the “Neodymium Gap” but in your honor I think I will now refer to the “Rare Earth Gap.”

    I’m in Washington, DC, where today I am speaking on rare earths, believe it or not!

    Jack Lifton

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    Buzzdog – +2

    We’d do more good for the earth by maintaining the vehicles that we already have on the road, and recycling everything we can from them when they die, rather than just junking them and only recylcling the metals. America’s consumption has got to have a greater impact on the environment than nearly any other behaviors we are involved in, and that includes driving. We are a very wasteful society, changing that could easily offset more environmental harm than hybrid cars do.

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    While the average ‘green’ consumer may not consider that hybrids still take a lot of resources and energy to manufacture, the environmental extremists do.

    Once the US fleet is substantially ‘green’, the enviros will issue the ‘surprising findings’ that in fact, hybrid cars have a bad footprint and drivers must be taxed highly to pressure them to use mass transit.

    Even if you built a car out of soy and hemp that ran on sunshine, the enviros would still say the supporting road infrastructure and suburban lifestyle is too hard on mother earth.
    They want dense urban living and mass transit.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Investing in diesel based biofuels, which are far more economically viable than ethanol, and could lead to completely renewable fuel for the entire country

    No, it can’t. There’s simply no way to get biofuels, diesel or ethanol, in anything remotely near useful volumes. Not with algae, not with waste reclamation. Biofuels work on small-scale, as additives, or with huge tax incentives, but otherwise they do not scale. Hydrogen has the same problem.

    The only solution is conservation. Use less, and find ways to use what you have more efficiently, and maybe biofuels will stand a chance. There are no blue-sky solutions that will let us chug along as we always have; we (and by “we” I mean humanity) need to reduce our energy footprint.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ psarhjinian

    We’re going to have to get the hang of conserving resources, no matter how costly, inconvenient or communistic it might seem.

    Well said that man!

    BTW, none of these are new problems. Wasteful consumption causes similar discussion within many industries. For example; Peak Phosphorus.

    Here‘s an excellent article from New Scientist.

    “Armin Reller, a materials chemist at the University of Augsburg in Germany ….. estimates that we have, at best, 10 years before we run out of indium.”

    Much of which (Indium) is used in LCD TVs and monitors.

    @ JackLifton

    I believe we’ve met each other at one of your many very valued presentations. (It’s OK – I don’t remember me either).

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Even if you built a car out of soy and hemp that ran on sunshine, the enviros would still say the supporting road infrastructure and suburban lifestyle is too hard on mother earth.

    And they’re right.

    Suburban mass development isn’t sustainable—the problem is that the people who benefit from it (city tax officers, developers, people looking for cheap big housing) don’t pay the true cost.

    A large part of why America and Canada use vastly more energy per capita than much of the rest of the world has to do with our comparative lack of sensible urban planning. We build whole communities—even farming ones—that are incredibly wasteful of resources simply because it’s cheap, easy and desirable in the short term.

    Well, guess what? The bill for that lifestyle is going to come due someday. In some ways, it already has.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Investing in diesel based biofuels, which are far more economically viable than ethanol, and could lead to completely renewable fuel for the entire country

    Not a chance. There is no way in hell that we could produce quantities of biofuel that would come anywhere close to replacing our current usage.

    Biofuels are fine as a minor supplement, but they are no panacea to anything. Their fans oversell them to extremes, without seeing the big picture reality that there is simply no way to produce adequate biomass to produce that much of it, even if the production includes recycled waste.

    Often one could make an argument that keeping a current gas-guzzler is more environmentally-friendly than the impact of building a new one.

    That isn’t the issue when viewed from a macro perspective, particularly if the individual gas guzzler is simply resold to another person who uses it.

    Rather, the issue is with how the new vehicles are produced and how much they consume, and how these new replacement vehicles compare to each other. As the old ones wear out and leave the system, it would be preferable that what’s left in their place are “better” vehicles, whatever those happen to be.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Gasoline: finances countries that support terrorism; possibly peaking; produces CO2.

    Rare earths: currently bought from China because production in the U.S. is not quite profitable; mostly recyclable.

    Apples:
    Oranges:

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    All this nonsense about biofuels, hybrids and ethanol is just that: malarkey! The extra costs involved with all of them, not to mention the CO2 and rare metals required to make them completely negates any possible environmental advantage. This especially goes for ethanol, what a total waste of resources that is.

    So, want to do something real about climate change? Well, ladies and germs, it means that yer friendly neighbourhood government is going to have to make it practically impossible for Johnny Clockpuncher to drive a 1 ton dually Ford F-350 to 7-11 for his Slurpee. This is a phenomena that only occurs in North America. It is a far better use of resources to simply tax the darned things out of existence that to keep on with the above mentioned lunacy.

    It doesn’t surprise me when I see many of my southern neighbours drowning in debt and being foreclosed on left right and centre. When you consume for the sake of consuming it has a way of coming back and biting you in the ass.

    My daddy, a depression child, taught me, “Son, only take what you need and leave the rest for somebody else.” He also taught me to never drive a car bigger that I needed and to actually calculate what the cost of driving was. There is no way on God’s (previously) green earth that I would ever go into debt for a 60000 lb monster truck that ate up half my income if I didn’t actually need it. That is why all the talk about “alternative fuels and hybrids” is a complete waste of time.

  • avatar
    T2

    I believe chorusmotors site also has some kind of whitepaper on the Neodymium-Iron-Boron supply situation. Neodymium is the material of choice for industrial servos to 15Kw, incidentally.

    The rotors of the two major electrical machines in the Toyota Prius use magnets of this type where their qualities supercede that of the earlier samarium cobalt.

    Since the magnet properties of these rare earth elements are temperature sensitive, motor stators are limited to 125 degrees C to avoid overheating their rotors.
    This can cause a problem with automobile powertrains with their finite thermal time constants which, for cost reasons, depend on high power demands having but short durations. The result is to limit the vehicle in its towing capacity or the amount of seat time for a Baruth fan.

    But why does the Toyota HSD have to be so dependent on Neodymium ?

    The speculation is that the HSD cruises in what some describe as ‘heresy’ mode and this accepted condition may make continuous regen from an induction motor version of MG2 into MG1 rather difficult if not impossible at some speeds due to the torque splitter gearing. As a result the higher back EMF attainable from the adoption of a magnet equipped rotor for MG2, at high speed, might be an essential circuit parameter to make the system operable. Just my 2 cents.

    For electric transmissions the preferred choice is the use of conventional induction motors for main traction. On the other hand the preferred choice for generators remanins with those machines having constant flux rotors of neodymium. The reason being that the max torque curve of a performance gasoline engine is constant through the speed range and this complements a similar torque demand curve for a constant flux electrical generator.

    Should China make the availability of Neodymium uncertain, bearing in mind that one particular mine is said to be the source of 77% of the world’s output, then what ? The obvious answer to me, in this application, would be to fall back to using a wound rotor in this position even at rotations of 10k RPM.

    T2

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Mephisto must be wearing a parka today… I’m with Psar.

    Use less… the rest is commentary.

    Over the last 18 months, the average miles of traded in cars has jumped 15%. I wonder why:

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/uptospeed/2009/07/owners-hanging-on-to-cars-longer.html

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    “Well, guess what? The bill for that lifestyle is going to come due someday. In some ways, it already has.”

    Sounds like you are not going to let a good crisis go to waste in keeping with a long standing tradition of fear mongering such as The World Without Us, Paul Erlich’s false doomsday predictions, Gore’s “we’ve only got 10 years..”, and on and on.

  • avatar
    shaker

    T2: “…MG1 rather difficult if not impossible at some speeds due to the torque splitter gearing. As a result the higher back EMF attainable from the adoption of a magnet equipped rotor for MG2, at high speed, might be an essential circuit parameter to make the system operable. Just my 2 cents…”

    That, Sir, was at least $1.50 worth. :-)

    Regarding Hybrids: If you put all of your eggs in one basket, don’t drop it.

    Unfortunately, a coherent energy/resources policy cannot be decided by the “free market” without some sort of ‘guidance’, becuase free market forces got us into oil addiction, and would happily get us into another addiction, then another, etc. due to economies of scale.

    IOW, it won’t be cheap, any way you look at it.

  • avatar
    rockit

    Great article, I’d say a TTAC must read!

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Sounds like you are not going to let a good crisis go to waste in keeping with a long standing tradition of fear mongering such as The World Without Us, Paul Erlich’s false doomsday predictions, Gore’s “we’ve only got 10 years..”, and on and on.

    Fuel is going to get more expensive. We’re going to have challenges of logistics and distribution, partly because of fuel, partly because we’re developing unsustainably. Houses are going to cost more if you want a big lot and two-car garages. Crime is going to be a problem as we develop soulless communities.

    These issues will always be there regardless of who the messenger is. You can’t magically turn the clock back to 1962 because the conditions that allowed that world flat don’t exist anymore. The questions are a) how quickly is it happening and b) what we can do about it. That it’s not happening is simply wishful thinking.

    Here’s a litmus test: Answer honestly: were it Sarah Palin and not Al Gore saying it, would you still object?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Regarding Hybrids: If you put all of your eggs in one basket, don’t drop it.

    I don’t think hybrids really are a one-basket solution. They, like fuel injection or electronic throttles, are a way to better use the resources available. A hybrid can reclaim energy and optimize power generation based on available sources and driving conditions.

    It makes sense to reclaim energy wasted by braking. It makes sense to use the reclaimed power when useful. It makes sense to run an engine at it’s most efficient RPM and throttle, rather than at what the driver thinks is best.

    We’ll see more of this as resource contention becomes an issue. We’ll start asking questions about why we’re wasting solar energy baking roof shingles and parking-lot asphalt, or why we’re wasting potable water to transport metabolic waste. Or why we design communities that people have to use cars to navigate.

  • avatar
    menno

    Canucknucklehead said “My daddy, a depression child, taught me, “Son, only take what you need and leave the rest for somebody else.” He also taught me to never drive a car bigger that I needed and to actually calculate what the cost of driving was. There is no way on God’s (previously) green earth that I would ever go into debt for a 60000 lb monster truck that ate up half my income if I didn’t actually need it.”

    Well said, and doesn’t sound like knucklehead thinking at all, to me.

    In fact, we Christians call it “good stewardship”. American Indians (or whatever the PC term is nowadays) used to call it “normal life”.

    As for the gummint looking to force us all into interment kamps/ghettos/urban centers to “live” (exist more like), why am I suspicious that these city raised folk think theirs is the “only” way?

    These are the folks who are so darned smart that, when you ask them where food comes from, they respond “the store, of course, silly”.

    The United States is not Europe. Many of us do not want to live cheek-by-jowl with neighbors in high-rises; we worked hard for* and earned our 3 acres in the countryside (and eschew the “subdivisisions” of “ticky-tack houses all alike in a row”).

    * I know, I know; what a quaint and old-fashioned idea that people who work hard and smart, save and scrimp, get by without for decades and donate to charity even when it hurts, actually want to keep a little of their own hard earned money and do what they please with it…. shhhhhh don’t tell “the One” he’ll want it all, so he can give it to someone else…

    BTW, I’m selling my Prius after having two, and putting 78,000 miles on them. I’m going to seriously consider a diesel instead. The gummint imbeciles (sorry to be redundant) have declared that E10 will be in all gas sold in my area, and my Prius MPG’s drop from 44 to 33 (winter) and from 52 to 46 (summer – if you can call 63 degrees F. summer) on the ethanol laced crap.

    My wife’s Hyundai Sonata only loses 6% MPG’s on 10% ethanol, instead of the 15-25% that the Prius does.

    Yes, ethanol is the biggest idiocy going – bar none. We would be far better to use any excess to requirements farmland to grow bio-diesel fuels (which would only result in a small reduction in oil imports rather than a wash, or increased oil imports due to the idiocy of ethanol production from corn).

    I’m really hoping Hyundai or Honda bring in diesel cars next year, but I’m not holding out much hope. I’m also going to look at the Mahindra, but I’m really not a “truck guy” at all. I LIKE CARS. I’m not a VW fan and can’t afford a Mercedes (and even if I could, it would royally piss me off to buy a $50,000 car and have it break down more often than my wife’s Hyundai).

    An alternative will be waiting for the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (since Hyundai’s engines don’t seem as badly affected by E10 compared to the Atkinson cycle engine in the Prius).

  • avatar
    educatordan

    So what you guys are saying is that every base model vehicle (no power mirrors or power locks or windows or seats or ect.) actually saves the earth a little cause of a fewer number of electric motors? Plus the benefit of fewer things to go wrong eventually.

    Thank god for my 2004 F150 Heritage with power NOTHING.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    why am I suspicious that these city raised folk think theirs is the “only” way?

    Because you be making a bigoted assumption, that’s why. I grew up on a farm and know quite well what’s involved. I also spent a lot of time doing network work in Europe a while back, and it was interesting to see how Europe did farming communities: instead of one house and acres of land, you has little cluster-villages surrounded by farming and support buildings.

    The upshot of this is that, outside of work, they can get what they need in the town they live, rather commuting a minimum of half and hour, sometimes more, as I had to when I was a kid. And they’re not isolated from their neighbours as I was, either.

    These are the folks who are so darned smart that, when you ask them where food comes from, they respond “the store, of course, silly

    Tell that to my “Farmers Feed Cities” bumper sticker, thanks.

    The United States is not Europe. Many of us do not want to live cheek-by-jowl with neighbors in high-rises; we worked hard for* and earned our 3 acres in the countryside (and eschew the “subdivisisions” of “ticky-tack houses all alike in a row”).

    You’re either making a typical ideological debating error, or you’re coming from the Rap Battle School of Debate: you think you know what your ideological opposite says, instead of listening to what they actually say, because what they’re actually saying is uncomfortable for you. So you put words in their mouth.

    Anyone who has anything to do with urban planning will tell you that high-rise, high-density housing is not an ideal situation except in very particular situations, like highly urban and/or geographically constrained environments where there’s nowhere to go but up. High-rises are recipes for ghettoization.

    What they generally do advocate is the kind of layout that is common in American and European pre-automobile suburban development. It consists of:
    * Medium-density, low rise or single-unit housing
    * Heavy integration of commercial and residential property, with industrial nexuses.
    * Everything in reasonable, walkable distance
    * Nothing cut off by major transportation thoroughfares

    You can have your ranch estate with acres of property. No one says you can’t. But you had better be prepared to accept that it’s no longer something that everyone is entitled to because it’s no longer cheap, nor is it sustainable. If you want to live your American Dream, be prepared to pay for the gas to drive to and from it.

    The reason the Agrestic (nice reference, by the way) model of suburbia is so prevalent is because of the kind of short-term thinking that the market is famous for: it apes the ranch house that’s so much a part of the American psyche, is cheap to build, generates lots of tax revenue (especially when you throw in big-box stores), and it cheap to buy. But it costs a lot to maintain, and it rots (in terms of social fabric) very quickly. And it has a high long-term cost.

    Now, we can do two things: we can keep developing like this and watch things get ugly every time gas spikes (and really horrible when it spikes and plateaus) or we can be proactive and encourage the construction of communities that actually work for people, rather than tax-men and developers. Of course, this requires people shrug off the effect of years marketing efforts by those same tax-men and developers.

    Much like SUVs, suburbia was sold, lock, stock and barrel. There’s decades of groupthink that needs to be undone, and it will be hard, especialy if the knee-jerk “you can’t tell me where to live” attitude is anything to go by.

    Newsflash: you’ve already been told where to live. You just don’t realize how adroitly you’ve been manipulated.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    The number of people living in cities is now upwards of 90% anyway. Nothing is going to change that.

    America is in great need of an intellectual leap, shift in thought paradigms. I am not convinced that America is ready to make that leap, either. Two things for certain: the past isn’t coming back and more of the same isn’t going to improve things. When something like 1 in 16 houses is in foreclosure, it’s time to take out the old thinking cap.

  • avatar
    rnc

    “psarhjinian:…Newsflash: you’ve already been told where to live. You just don’t realize how adroitly you’ve been manipulated.”

    I don’t agree with alot of what you say, but a big +1 on that.

  • avatar
    rnc

    And since once again politicalness has been inserted into an automobile blog, “the one” comments and all. I was (still am in alot of ways) a republican leaning voter mostly, but Jesus I am just shocked by the damage done to this country in eight short years and how people followed it like sheep and would have been more than happy to have kept right on doing it. This country is divided in half (politically, almost to the point of no matter what the other side does it is wrong and what our side does it’s right no matter what, that’s scary), one half had eight years to do thier thing and the results are obvious, now the other half gets its turn. I voted that way, because something has to give or change. And yes there is going to be a price to pay there has to be, I guess I am willing to be part of paying it, because there really isn’t a choice.

  • avatar
    Watas

    The Chinese explicitly see rare earths as a lever to maximize control over automotive worldwide. They must first keep prices low, to encourage widespread adoption.

    There is a precedent here: the Russians did this with various platinum group metals. They convinced Ford (and others) to adopt a new catalytic converter approach, and assured them that supply would be plentiful. Then once Ford started production and were committed, the Russians took the price to >$1k per ounce, and made a killing.

    To see a more comprehensive review of Neodymium, and Chinese ambitions for supply, see

    http://www.choruscars.com/Chorus_NEO_WhitePaper.pdf

    There are superb reasons to avoid permanent magnet motors (the biggest consumers of rare earths for hybrid cars).

  • avatar
    M1EK

    1. I wonder when, if ever, we’ll see “The Truth about Diesel”, where we get into how messy the refining process is and how the new emissions control schemes are working, if at all.

    2. The enemy of rural folk is NOT city folk – it’s suburbanites.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Great article, and a very thought provoking discussion, RF. Thanks.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    My roommate and I had a discussion regarding the distribution of natural resources (stemming out of a conversation about mining asteroids) and we (well, mostly him) ended up taking about China and rare earth metals. I’m not sure what his sources were, but he mentioned the reason why China has seemingly vast deposits of rare earth (which are rare the same way noble gasses are noble) minerals is because they are willing to prospect and mine at a very low cost. Very interesting stuff, especially when you take into account the Rio Tinto arrests

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The number of people living in cities is now upwards of 90% anyway. Nothing is going to change that.

    You’re right. What needs to change is how we build cities. Right now we’re doing a deplorable job of it.

  • avatar
    johnthacker

    I wonder when, if ever, we’ll see “The Truth about Diesel”, where we get into how messy the refining process is and how the new emissions control schemes are working, if at all.

    The cleaner diesel is certainly working pretty well on sulfur emissions from the tailpipe. It costs money to refine, of course.

    Now, we can do two things: we can keep developing like this and watch things get ugly every time gas spikes (and really horrible when it spikes and plateaus) or we can be proactive and encourage the construction of communities that actually work for people, rather than tax-men and developers. Of course, this requires people shrug off the effect of years marketing efforts by those same tax-men and developers.

    Talk about the Rap Battle School of Debate. Developers would love to build more dense medium density housing. Most “McMansions” are about squeezing the same large ranch houses onto smaller lots than previously existed in suburbia. (Yeah, in some places it’s the same lot sizes but larger houses.) Most recently built suburban neighborhoods constructed by developers put more houses onto the same space. It’s not a surprise; under a market system, a developer can make a lot more money with an acre putting 10 townhouses on .1 acre lots than 2-4 single family homes on quarter to half acre lots.

    The enemy of density is NOT developers and the free market. The enemy of density is NIMBYs and zoning, land-user planning, and environmental laws that come from thinking locally instead of thinking globally. Smart growth laws and boards designed to encourage density end up being captured by NIMBY folks who prevent all growth, and force it out to the exurbs and outer suburbs.

    From 2000 to 2007, cities like Houston with less zoning regulation densified more rapidly than other cities. Lack of zoning allows more mixed-use developments to build. Plenty of other, denser cities were largely denser before restrictive zoning and environmental restrictions were added, and they can’t change easily.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    China is aggressively moving into Africa to get said metals. Because China is America’s financier, there is diddly America can do about it, either. Let’s just say the conditions in said mines in Sudan, Congo and Tanzania are not exactly five star.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    Yes, John, your rap battle skills _are_ strong.

    1. Houston has suburban zoning without the Z-word. Parking minimums, long block lengths, maximum units per acre, etc. – in many cases more restrictive than the typical suburban area.

    2. “Smart growth” laws generally add permitted building types or allow for more density – adding choice, not limiting it. They have rarely been captured by NIMBY folk; on the contrary – the NIMBY folk have been fighting against them (sometimes winning, sometimes losing; but never really co-opting).

    3. Diesel refining is incredibly dirty, and “clean diesel” is just barely clean enough to be sold here – the VW TDI, for instance, is planted firmly in the dirtiest ‘bin’ that’s still legal.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    As the government pushes the automakers to improve mileage and cut emissions, they’re practically demanding carmakers produce electric or hybrid-electric vehicles. Even though the government and industry know how important these rare earths are critical to their environmental goals, they’ve failed to consider the potential impact of a “rare earth” gap, trusting that the free market will provide the required raw materials at a cost-effective price.

    Strangely enough, they don’t rely on the same forces to drive oil production or by extension the production of more fuel efficient autos.

  • avatar
    derm81

    This is hands-down the best piece I have read on TTC so far.

  • avatar
    Anna Mac

    It is deeply disappointing to see a communist central government indulge in long-term planning that puts the west firmly in their grip. Our politicians are so busy worrying about their jobs and their legacies, they forget about the country.

    As for climate change or whatever the lastest buzz phrase is, Bill O’Reilly drank that kool-aid along with Warren Buffet and a few of my friends. It doesn’t matter who says it, it is hogwash. Besides, Sarah’s a grown up. She worships God, not liberal ideology.

  • avatar
    redseca2

    That image is more than a little misleading, but it has had its desired effect based on some of the comments.

    Of the 8 bullet points circling the Prius:

    1 relates to Diesel fuel.
    2 relate to Hybrid technology specifically.
    5 seem to relate to virtually any 2009 car of mid-level and above quality and cost.

  • avatar
    wsn

    Anna Mac :
    July 22nd, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    It is deeply disappointing to see a communist central government indulge in long-term planning that puts the west firmly in their grip. Our politicians are so busy worrying about their jobs and their legacies, they forget about the country.

    ——————————————-

    Don’t blame the “communist plan.” At least this part of the deal is still free market. You are not forced to buy (unlike the involuntary buy and no voting power of GM stakes).

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ M1EK

    ….the VW TDI, for instance, is planted firmly in the dirtiest ‘bin’ that’s still legal.

    Would you care to clarify that? The just superseded engines exceeded Euro 5, while the current ones meet Euro 6 (not due ’till 2014).

    I’m fairly certain most states (maybe just CA) don’t have a current standard that would be considered comparable to Euro 4/5 and certainly not Euro 6.

    (Happy to be shot down).

  • avatar
    M1EK

    PeteMoran, Tier 2 Bin 5 is the dirtiest emissions category that’s still legal in this country going forward. Many gas-only engines have no trouble achieving better classifications. All hybrids I’m aware of do.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • NormSV650: Probably the most miles it will see for the rest of the decade….
  • Inside Looking Out: Congratulations with your new car Corey. Did you have a plan B when planning the trip? It is a...
  • Dodge440391SG: My Dad bught a new 1950 Studebaker without a heater. It has been reported that my Mother was not...
  • ptschett: ‘Minnesota’ might be the problem there. When I was growing up in South Dakota the conventional...
  • NormSV650: Acura delays the Honda turbocharged announcment until another auto show.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Timothy Cain, Canada
  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States