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Category — Rare earths (minerals)

Tucker’s Terrestrialism and the Technology of Modernity

“The release of energy from splitting a uranium atom turns out to be 2 million times greater than breaking the carbon-hydrogen bond in coal, oil or wood. Compared to all the forms of energy ever employed by humanity, nuclear power is off the scale. Wind has less than 1/10th the energy density of wood, wood half the density of coal, and coal half the density of octane. Altogether they differ by a factor of about 50. Nuclear has 2 million times the energy density of gasoline. It is hard to fathom this in light of our previous experience. Yet our energy future largely depends on grasping the significance of this differential. “

- William Tucker, excerpted from his lecture, Understanding E=MC2

William Tucker has powerfully explained how the future of technologically advanced civilizations depends upon a sophisticated ability to convert the highest energy densities into increasingly denser power performance, and in the process compacting the time and space necessary to do productive work.

In fact, Tucker wrote an excellent book about this, Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Energy Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey. In light of the excerpt from that book recently posted at Master Resource, I thought readers of this forum might find my review from two years ago (see below) of interest, particularly if they have not yet read Tucker’s book.

The Primacy of Energy Density

Rockefeller University’s Jesse Ausubel has demonstrated that the trend in energy usage continues along a decarbonizing trajectory. Improvements in technology combined with a communal desire to live longer and more healthfully have spurred this phenomenon. Given a choice, who wants to live in a town where thousands of chimneys cast off carbon by-products like sulfuric smoke and soot? Civilization will continue decarbonizing apace, whether this aligns with climate change alarmism, or not. [Read more →]

January 24, 2012   3 Comments

Rare Earth and Lithium Supplies Cloud Renewables

Rare earths refer to some 17 elements found in Earth’s crust by themselves or combined with other chemicals. Some are scarce and others abundant, but in most every case Rare earths create risk in the renewable energy supply chain under an “energy security” standard.

The metals and their compounds used in battery technologies, windmills, catalysts, and communications technologies are not mined in the U.S. The majority of commercially useful Rare earths come from mines in China, a country that is fickle toward the U.S. in many ways. This energy-security issue contradicts a rationale for taxpayer support for government-dependent energy technologies such as windpower and electric cars.

China’s Rare Earth Monopoly

The Rare earths occupy 57th to 71st place on the periodic chart of the elements. Discovered largely in the 19th century, the minerals have proven useful for modern technologies because of their electrochemical properties. They are crucial to advanced, high-temperature superconducting technologies, in addition to being used in windmills, electric vehicles, and new lighting technologies.

China owns the market for the most important rare earth metals, producing almost 100% of dysprosium and terbium, both crucial to the advanced performance of electric motors and lighting (see figure). Today, demand for the rare metals is booming. But China has been exploiting its dominant monopoly of rare earths to manipulate the market, according to U.S. commodities analysts.

Geographic changes in rare earth production. Courtesy: USGS

These are not internationally traded commodities on transparent markets, so sussing out market price trends is difficult. Analysts surveying the market assert that China is using its market power to control prices and benefit its domestic producers and users. [Read more →]

March 26, 2010   5 Comments