US green policies strengthen China

The Wall Street Journal recently published a brief, compelling op-ed by energy expert Robert Bryce entitled "The Electric Vehicle Push Empowers China."

In May, the International Energy Agency reported that an electric-vehicle motor requires "upwards of 1 kilogram," or more than 2 pounds, of rare-earth elements. The same report found that China controls about 85% of the global supply of those elements and that the "geographical concentration of production" of critical minerals — including rare earths, lithium, copper and cobalt — "is unlikely to change in the near term."

Mr. Bryce adds:

According to the IEA, offshore wind turbines require as much as 500 pounds of rare earths per megawatt of installed capacity, including some 400 pounds of neodymium. Those are big numbers considering that the Biden administration wants to deploy 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030. The IEA predicts that the global wind-energy industry's need for rare earths "is set to more than triple by 2040."

Huh.  That's 15 million pounds of rare earth metals by 2030, just for U.S. offshore wind turbines.

In April 2021, CNBC reported on the new U.S. plan to end China's cornering of rare earth metals.  Accordingly, "[t]he Biden administration and Department of Energy have targeted rare earths among domestic supply chain priorities as they outline ambitious climate and technology policy."

Only a month later, by May 2021, Biden had caved to environmentalists and abandoned domestic production of rare earth metals:

U.S. President Joe Biden will rely on ally countries to supply the bulk of the metals needed to build electric vehicles and focus on processing them domestically into battery parts, part of a strategy designed to placate environmentalists, two administration officials with direct knowledge told Reuters[.] ... The plans will be a blow to U.S. miners who had hoped Biden would rely primarily on domestically sourced metals, as his campaign had signaled last autumn, to help fulfill his ambitions for a less carbon-intensive economy.

Mining is a dirty business.  Here are a few images from the Bayan Obo — the world's largest rare earth mine, located in Mongolia.  These mines cause devastating damage to the environment and to the health of the people who work and live near them.  China mines rare earth metals primarily in the southeastern provinces of Jiangxi and Fujian, as well as Inner Mongolia to the north and Sichuan to the west.

Rare earth minerals are hardly scarce; they are distributed throughout the planet.  However, they are highly dispersed, as opposed to concentrated in exploitable ore deposits, making them difficult, expensive, and environmentally damaging to extract.  In exchange for grandiose promises of infrastructure investment, China has secured mining rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo for lithium, cobalt, and coltan, and in Kenya, which has huge mineral potential.  China is advancing their mining interests in several African countries, as well as in Greenland and Latin America, especially Brazil.  As reported by Russell Parman, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, "[i]n 2012, an $8.4 billion rare-earth deposit was discovered in Brazil.  Over the past few years, China has become Brazil's undisputed top trade partner."

Rare earth metals have indispensable and irreplaceable military and high-tech industrial applications, but they are not necessary for the production of electricity.  Every wind turbine and electric vehicle our government induces into existence through subsidies and mandates further strengthens and enriches China.  We can operate our vehicles with gasoline or diesel without relying on Chinese neodymium, terbium, and dysprosium.  We can generate electricity by utilizing the energy density, cost-effectiveness, relative cleanliness, and made-in-the-USA qualities of natural gas and nuclear power in particular.  We need not abandon our most sensible energy options in return for appeasing a boisterous crowd of self-righteous zealots.

Image via Max Pixel.

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