The Coming “Green” Collapse?

  • Date: 02/01/10

William A. Jacobson: As I posted earlier, the key elements in “green” technology are rare metals mined mostly in China. The green economy envisioned by the Obama administration as the means by which we will grow “green jobs” and lessen our dependence on foreign oil in fact simply puts us at the mercy of the Chinese. Now those fears are coming to fruition, as China is about to restrict the sale of these metals, as reported in The Independent newspaper in Britain:

Industry sources have told The Independent that China could halt shipments of at least two metals as early as next year, and that by 2012 it is likely to be producing only enough REE [rare earth elements] ore to satisfy its own booming domestic demand, creating a potential crisis as Western countries rush to find alternative supplies, and companies open new mines in locations from South Africa to Greenland to satisfy international demand….

Jack Lifton, an independent consultant and a world expert on REEs, said: “A real crunch is coming. In America, Britain and elsewhere we have not yet woken up to the fact that there is an urgent need to secure the supply of rare earths from sources outside China. China has gone from exporting 75 per cent of the raw ore it produces to shipping just 25 per cent, and it does not consider itself to be under any obligation to ensure supplies of rare earths to anyone but itself. There has been an effort in the West to set up new mines but these are five to 10 years away from significant production.”

The whole “green” revolution is based on the false assumption that the technology does not use scarce resources. In fact, “green” technology is a scarce resource hog, as The Independent article points out:

Once extracted and refined, the rare earth metals can be put to a dizzying range of hi-tech uses. Neodymium, one of the most common rare earths, is a key part of neodymium-iron-boron magnets used in hyper-efficient motors and generators. Around two tonnes of neodymium are needed for each wind turbine. Lanthanum, another REE, is a major ingredient for hybrid car batteries (each Prius uses up to 15kg), while terbium is vital for low-energy light bulbs and cerium is used in catalytic converters.

Yet almost no one is talking about this resource scarcity as we plan to tax traditional energy sources to invest in “green” alternatives, we refuse to seek alternative sources of oil, and Obama hypes “green” jobs and technology as the key to our economic and job growth.

This is a monumental policy failure in its infancy. Is anyone in Washington listening?

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