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China Government Science Technology

US Gives $120M For Lab To Tackle Rare Earth Shortages 170

Posted by samzenpus
from the making-rare-more-common dept.
coondoggie writes "With China once again playing games with the rare earth materials it largely holds sway over, the U.S. Department of Energy today said it would set up a research and development hub that will bring together all manner of experts to help address the situation. The DOE awarded $120 million to Ames Laboratory to set up an Energy Innovation Hub that will develop solutions to the domestic shortages of rare earth metals and other materials critical for U.S. energy security, the DOE stated."
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US Gives $120M For Lab To Tackle Rare Earth Shortages

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  • Politics (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DaMattster (977781) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @05:48AM (#42544047)
    It's about high time that we have bipartisan support for energy independence. It's time for both political parties to pull their thumbs out of their collective arses and get it done!
  • by mov_eax_eax (906912) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @06:00AM (#42544089)

    today works like this: bribe local authoritites and enslave miners in third world countries while destroying the environment, then let criminal organizations export them back to the us, like the blood diamonds; there is a huge black market out there.

    Well funded R&D can bring us amazing advancements, I only hope this project succeeds and stops the illegal mining and the black market in the same vein of the synthetic latex.

  • by Luckyo (1726890) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @06:11AM (#42544121)

    Political interest is also about not having to restart highly toxic rare earth mining at home with all the consequences that it brings.

  • by telchine (719345) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @06:34AM (#42544187)

    However, just handing out grants is the wrong approach . It would be much better to set out the goals and offer specific awards for achieving them.

    The goal in this case is to obtain materials. And the reward is money. So you're suggesting that we offer money in exchange for rare earth materials. That's called buying it. We do that already and it's expensive. I think funding research is a good idea in this case!

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Thursday January 10, 2013 @06:43AM (#42544217)

    The goal in this case is to obtain materials.

    No, that is not the goal. The goal of the research is to reduce or eliminate the need for the rare earth metals.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 10, 2013 @06:46AM (#42544225)

    Grants are not "just handed out". Grants are awarded to the best plan that is submitted.

    Also, grants are much better, because they allow many more different types of research to be funded, rather than just the tiny scope of engineering challenges. Yes, each of these engineering challenges is good, and yes they produce results, but that is because engineering lends itself perfectly for such a challenge. The general idea is the same, but the approaches to the problem are different; doing them in parallel and with different teams makes sense, and each contribution is valuable even if they do not win. However, in the case of research, it does not make sense to repeat work several times.

  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @06:53AM (#42544249) Journal

    China is not the leader because they have the only rare earths, but because low labor costs made it cheaper to mine them there.

    It's a mixture of several things:
    * low labour costs
    * lax safety standards
    * lax environmental standards
    * goverment subsidy plus dumping to put everyone else out of business

  • by Sait-kun (922599) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @06:55AM (#42544251)

    Instead of finding even more ways to strip the earth of all useful materials they should be investing in recycling used materials.

    There are literally millions if not billions (in both weight/tons and in value) of rare earth materials in thrown away products around the world.

    They should be investing in developing technologies to recycle old products and re-use as many of the materials as possible and not just the rare ones either as materials that are a plenty now will become rare if we continue to use and throw them away.

  • Re:Politics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 10, 2013 @07:25AM (#42544343)

    Biggest oil (or even energy) producer != Energy independence

    We are so wasteful and inefficient that being #1 doesn't solve our problem since we're at or near #1 in consumption, waste and any other category you can think of.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 10, 2013 @07:26AM (#42544353)

    Not necessarily. Probably not in the medium term, and in the long term there is no comparison.

    The biggest barriers to asteroid mining are the high cost of surface to orbit transit and a lack of orbital infrastructure. When a fully mechanized asteroid capture and processing system makes it past those hurdles, though that may take a while, the price of scaling everything up starts dropping to free:

    - There is no superlinear increase in mining cost with increased extraction, since the robots can cherrypick small asteroids that are easy to drill through.

    - There's far more of every nonorganic resource out there, in relatively easy reach, than we could possibly need. Even into the fairly distant future.

    - Most if not all of the infrastructure will become useful for things other than asteroid mining: Science, space tourism, solar and horticultural farms, manufacturing, colonization, etc. The pressure problem renders this bonus nearly nonexistent for undersea infrastructure.

    - Sending mountains of mined ore back down is free. Don't give me that look.

    In contrast:

    - Anything sent into space only needs to withstand only one to zero atmospheres of pressure, while sea mining requires pressure changes hundreds to thousands of times larger.

    - Objects in space are easier to track and can be surveyed by external instruments in the event of system failures.

    - Smartly repurposed mining slag from asteroids won't pollute our biosphere the way it might underwater.

    - Robots sink to the sea floor, but megatons of heavy ore will have to fight gravity bitterly for every meter to the surface.

    And as far as I'm aware, in space there are significantly fewer house-sized monsters with a taste for cable sheathing.

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Thursday January 10, 2013 @07:49AM (#42544465)

    Grants are not "just handed out". Grants are awarded to the best plan that is submitted.

    Have you ever worked in a research lab? I have. We had two tiers of scientists. The best people were dedicated to the activity that brought in the revenue: writing proposals. The second tier spent their time on less important tasks, like doing research. The primary purpose of the research was to produce non-definitive results that could be used to justify more funding.

    During the 1980s and 1990s DARPA poured tens of millions into research on robotics and automated vehicles, all for little effect. Then they offered a small fraction of their previous spending as a monetary prize for a specific result, and the result was rapid and revolutionary progress. Competition works.

    The $120 million that DOE is spending on this is sixty times the cost of the DARPA Grand Challenge. Do you really think it is going to be anywhere near as effective?

  • Re:Solution (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 10, 2013 @08:03AM (#42544541)

    Leave it to the Obama administration to throw the money at publicity headlines rather than anything that would actually make an investment of tax dollars.

    Congress is in control of funding, "you moron"!

  • Here is a thought (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Thursday January 10, 2013 @09:46AM (#42545571)

    Here is a thought. The US is a capitalistic society. Why is the government funding this? If there is a resource shortage, isn't the private sector the solution? Or is it that the private sector is only the solution once all the hard stuff has been paid for by the taxpayer?

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