DC ‘Leak’: Catalyst for Chinese Rare Earth Supply vs. US National Security Debate

Missile-chinese-americanThe Obama administration’s case against China's export policies on rare earth minerals is not only about business concerns — it is about national security. I just returned home from the TREM Critical Metals Summit about Washington’s policy on rare earths and it was “leaked” that a DC report was forthcoming that would negate the need for creating self dependence on rare earth supply and would instead cite global interdependence and the benefits of Chinese economics in supplying cost effective REEs.
 
Timed appropriately this week with President Obama’s news conference that the United States, joined by Japan and the European Union, has filed complaints with the World Trade Organization over China's rare earth export quotas said this is an effort to give "American workers and American businesses a fair shot in the global economy". He also brought up rare earths in clean energy applications – but there was no reference to what we all know and as eloquently summed up by a member in the audience:  “…every frickin’ defense platform uses rare earths.” 

I recall the 70’s (and yes, I do) and how upset we were about our dependence on the Middle East for oil. Today, China’s dominance of the rare earth industry with over 90% of the supply and 95% of the processing capabilities poses far reaching implications for the U.S.’ defense sector. Jeff Green of JA Green & Co. commented from a panel in response to the rumor: “Earlier promises to vertically integrate a supply-chain all in the US had tremendous political appeal garnered by wrapping yourself in the flag…” – we believe that James Hedrick had it right when he said: “Rare earths are the economic and technologic foundation of a safe and secure Nation. To possess them imparts independence, immunity to coercion, and the tools to invoke scientific advancement.”

What’s the answer? One conclusion at the TREM event was that no conclusion would occur until after the Presidential election. So we challenge the Presidential candidates to add this relevant issue to their platform for debate. 

So let’s drill down further…

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A report released in February 2011 called Rare Earth Metals and U.S. National Security, by the American Security Project notes:

  • Though the Pentagon claims that the U.S. only uses 5% of the world’s supply of rare earth metals for defense purposes, the U.S. is fully dependent on China for the production of some of its most powerful weapons.
  • The U.S. does not track rare earth metals in its weapons systems or platforms. Therefore a shortage of rare earths will affect the strength and readiness of the U.S. military until currently used defense systems are no longer in operation.

In April 2010 the Government Accountability Office released a report titled Rare Earth Materials in the Defense Supply Chain commissioned by Congress to assess sources and projected availability of rare earth materials; to identify which defense systems depend on rare earth materials; and to assess national security risks identified by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) due to dependencies on rare earth materials and review the actions that can be taken.

Here’s what the report concluded:

  • Use of rare earth materials is widespread in defense systems. These include precision-guided munitions; lasers, communication systems, radar systems; avionics, night vision equipment; and satellites.
  • Rare earths are responsible for the functionality of critical components in defense systems and would be difficult to replace without losing performance. For example, fin actuators used in precision-guided munitions are specifically designed based on the capabilities of neodymium-iron-boron rare earth magnets. Rare earths are also used in commercial-off-the-shelf products in defense systems such as computer hard drives
  • These defense systems will likely continue to depend on rare earth materials, based on their life cycles and lack of effective alternative substitute materials.    
  • While the U.S. has previously performed all stages of the rare earth material supply chain most rare earth materials processing occurs in China. Rebuilding a U.S. rare earth supply chain could take up to 15 years and is contingent on several factors: securing capital investments in processing infrastructure, developing new technologies, acquiring patents held by international companies.

REE Defense Systems Applications:

REEs play a crucial role in several national defense systems including those used by the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps. REEs are critical to the functionality of such systems and can affect calibration, aim, efficiency and speed. REEs are used in a range of military and defence equipment including  F-series fighter jets; helicopters; tanks & other armoured vehicles; ships; missiles; radar systems; countermeasure systems; and satellite systems.
 
REEs in the form of sintered neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) are used in tail fin actuator motors of joint direct attack munition (JDAM) bomb conversion kits; miniature air-launched decoys (MALD); joint air-to-ground missiles (JAGM); and javelin missiles. They are also used in permanent magnet motors of close-in-weapon-systems like the Phalanx CIWS anti-ship missile defense system; and navy propulsion motors and drives for the Zumwalt Destroyer.
 
Here are some more applications of REEs in the defense sector as cited in the REE Handbook – the ultimate guide to Rare Earth Elements:

  • Gadolinium-scandium-gallium garnet (GSGG) crystal lasers are used in high-energy laser weapons. 
  • Lanthanum is a key input in the production of fuel for planes, trains, and automobiles. 
  • Lanthanum oxide is used in the making of infrared-absorbing glass used in night vision goggles. 
  • Neodymium yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd:YAG) are the most widely used lasers in commercial and military applications. It is used for cutting, welding, scribing, boring, ranging, and targeting. 
  • Luminous promethium range-marks are used in the targeting sights of shoulder-fired missiles.
  • Samarium-cobalt permanent magnets are used in servo-motors to adjust the fins on missiles.
  • The primary use of europium is in phosphors for pilot display screens to yield reddish-orange colours. 
  • Yttrium gadolinium garnet or yttrium gallium garnets (YGG) are used in the electronic components of communications and radar systems.
  • Dysprosium in Terfenol-D is used in sonar sensors and positioning actuators.
  • Holmium: yttrium aluminum garnet (Ho:YAG) solid state lasers are used in military and space-based laser distance and ranging (LADAR) systems to create three-dimensional images and to  detect objects at great distances.
  • Fighter jet engines use yttria-stabilized zirconia as a thermal barrier to withstand extremely high temperatures.

On a final note, with China having a third of the world’s REE reserves, and only about 3% of the deposits compared to the US where according to the US Geological Survey there are about 13 million metric tons of rare earth deposits in the US…instead of buying from China – if we supply our share for the supply of rare earth materials it would create jobs for Americans…for the endless technological applications, not to mention — we could supply our own materials needed for our national security.


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Tracy Weslosky

About Tracy Weslosky

Tracy Weslosky is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of InvestorIntel, a leading global investment intelligence source created for the innovative and entrepreneurial minded that represents over 50 publicly listed companies globally that are listed on InvestorIntel.com. Tracy is also the Founder & CEO for ProEdge Media Corp., an online publishing and media production company since 2001; and is the Managing Partner for 724 Capital Corp., a business consulting firm that currently represents U.S. Rare Earths, Inc. Previously she has owned a boutique Investment Banking firm for 7 years that was the basis for a business reality television series called, DealFlow. Aired around the world for 3 years on CNBC World, WealthTV and many other networks globally; Tracy is a speaker, writer and an entrepreneur.
  1. I side with China.
    Exactly why should China be obligated to give REE to anyone, if China can utilize the REEs themselves?
    Why shouldn’t ROW (rest of the world) mine and manufacture their own REEs. “Ride their own REE horse” in this high tech race?
    Exactly why would China be obligated to help bail out the socialist big spenders in USA/Euro zone?
    Exactly why would China give rare dysprosium to anyone that is a potential military adversary to China or its surrogates? (does Iran pop into anyone’s mind?).
    Exactly why would China give “star wars” REEs to anyone who puts REE laden spy satellites over Chinese sovereign soil?
    China’s leaders are smart. Deng Xiaoping’s vision is now. China’s emergence as the World’s ultimate Banker and Military Giant is nearly complete.
    Wake up?
    Smell the Chinese-made Iranian-fired exploding dysprosium guided missiles?

  2. Zhang Anwen a leading Chinese government advisor and Deputy Secretary General of Inner Mongolia Rare Earth Guild who in Beijing conference Spring 2010 said:
    “Foreign countries should calmly and logically think about this and develop their own mines for their own needs. Our (China) resources are diminishing and we (China) need these minerals for our own use.”
    (Minutes 2:46 to 3:20 in the 6:19 minute video)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHs2lGsqFKU&p=19D44B68A08E1850

  3. part 1.
    Greater transparency? Less secrecy? Less international intrigue? Less confrontation? Is that too much to ask from the USA and Chinese governments?
    Why couldn’t USA and China have revealed their real motivations adversely effecting the REE mining and manufacturing industry in 2007? 2008?
    Why not let us know before 2 February 2011 UK Telegraph? (See links).
    Why did USA DOD wait to release information 4 February 2011? (See link).
    Multiple press releases about “satellite and cyberwarfare” in multiple countries now, shortly after the UK Telegraph article “USA and China shoot down satellites”. (See link).
    The severe impending worldwide REE shortages could have been avoided. (See links for US DOE Critical Materials Strategy and IBTimes: American Security).
    The Non Chinese REE mining and manufacturing industry could be 4 years further along.
    Will the same western governments blame the Non Chinese REE industry when the impending severe REE shortages hit?
    REE shortages hitting governmental and high tech business supply needs hard!
    With honest, timely and transparent government communication, the Non Chinese REE mining and manufacturing industry could have risen to the challenge of potentially providing all of the Non Chinese REE supply needs.
    Sudden. Permanent. Game-Changing. Earth-Shaking.
    Permanent decisions about Chinese REE exports have happened.
    The Non Chinese world needs to come to grip with the New Reality:
    How to find and fund Non Chinese REE mining and manufacturing sources for all Non Chinese demand?
    Let me explain the change that has happened:
    “China and US shoot satellites in standoff” Telegraph Group Ltd. UK (See Links)
    Dates: January 2007, February 2008, January 2010, February 2010.
    Did these international incidents cause the Chinese to change Chinese REE export policy?
    Did the Chinese determine that sharing REE with potential military adversaries is not in Chinese Strategic Interest?
    If these statements are true, how permanent is the Chinese REE export ban? Particularly of the scarce and strategically important HREE?
    How permanent is the Chinese ban of Dy Tb Y ?
    Permanent decisions about Chinese REE exports have been made as a result of this incident?
    Obviously there are other considerations, e.g, relative scarcity of materials, self interest in developing their own REE manufacturing sector. As the Chinese move up the technological REE manufacturing chain, they shall consume most if not all of Chinese produced REEs.
    Further, China claims that China is now “environmentally” concerned?
    These “official” explanations seemed insufficient to explain the drastic change in REE exports and total ban on Dy Tb Y.
    Suddenly the earth-shaking game-changing REE world events of the last year make sense.
    Sudden severe Chinese REE export restrictions and the Chinese ban of Dy Tb Y make perfect sense.
    Suddenly why are we surprised that our tiny fledging REE miners have doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or more within one year?

  4. part 2
    “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” — Albert Einstein.
    Seemed like a “miracle” didn’t it? Guess what? That’s how things appear until more facts are revealed?
    Finally the China and USA “star wars race” conflict was revealed 2 February 2011 by UK Telegraph. (See links).
    This conflict extends to the rest of the Western world. For example, China’s fear of Strategic Missile Defense Shield in Japan by the USA.
    A major change in policy is often due to a significant incident. Why are we surprised?
    Please do not take my opinion as fact for yourself. Please review the maze of documents just released by UK Telgraph. Come up with your own judgements. (Links attached).
    Please spend 10 minutes or 10 hours doing your own analysis of the just revealed UK Telegraph documents, and decide in your own mind the permanent consequences to REE Mining/Manufacturing.
    The Chinese shall ban most rare earths and certainly any HREE that have military applications. The West shall never again trust the Chinese for vital REE resources.
    Yes the REE world is forever changed. Irreversibly. Permanently.
    The Non Chinese REE mining and manufacturing world is suddenly called upon to deliver 50 percent of the world’s REE supply.
    Impossible REE demands shall be placed on the Non Chinese REE Miners/Manufacturers. Can we deliver? I doubt we can.
    Severe pressure shall be placed upon each and every Non Chinese Miner to produce. Currently, only 7 Non Chinese REE miners are expected in production by 2015 (Alkane, Arafura, Avalon, Great Western, Molycorp, Lynas, and Dong Pao of Vietnam).
    Personally I doubt that these 7 select companies can replace 50 percent of the world’s rare earth needs, even at current levels.
    Perhaps with more warning, more awareness of the 2 February 2011 revelations, our Non Chinese miners could have geared up faster, expanded more rapidly, more money could have been raised, more workers trained, etc.?
    We have been living in a world based on old assumptions. China: The Rare Earth Monopolist would be our REE “Mama”. China would provide any shortfall that the Non Chinese miners could not provide in the next few years?
    New Reality: Virtually all of the Non Chinese demand needs to be supplied by Non Chinese Mining and Manufacturing companies, i.e., 50 percent of the world’s total use of REEs. Virtually all of the already Chinese banned REE: Dy Tb Y. China has already banned 41 REE manufactured products. How soon!
    The progression to a total Chinese REE ban is inevitable and may happen at any time.
    Is the Non Chinese world prepared for severe shortages? Shortages that the US Department of Energy said in December 2010 shall last at least 15 years? (See attached link).
    The world’s most successful businesses: Siemens, General Electric, Toyota, Honda, Apple, etc. and governmental needs: Japan, USA, EU, South Korea, India are all threatened.

  5. part 3
    China: No safety valve for the world. See Zhang Anwen statement: Video attached.
    Solutions happen when actions are taken.
    May I ask a question? How can we come to our own personal interpretations, and merge our collective interpretation of the New Reality? What actions can we take? How can we “spread the word” of real shortages, real need to increase Non Chinese REE supply capability?
    What obligations do governments have to mitigate potential damage to their National Defense, and potential crippling of businesses?
    Is there a true REE crisis? A true emergency?
    If there is an impending disaster of supply shortfall, what can we do to make a difference? Individually? Collectively? Individual REE companies? REE companies collectively? REE industry collectively?
    The future is in our hands. Our collective hands. We will be judged as an industry by our actions.
    Yes these are great opportunities for the Non Chinese REE mining/manufacturing industry, but at the same time severely difficult times ahead even working together.
    Can we accomplish a nearly impossible task: fulfilling our call to provide the modern world with a sufficient supply of REE?
    How will history judge us?
    Attached links:
    2 February 2011 UK Telegraph Ltd:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/wikileaks/8299495/WikiLeaks-US-and-China-in-military-standoff-over-space-missiles.html
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/wikileaks/8299410/WikiLeaks-timeline-of-the-space-race.html
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/wikileaks/8299491/WikiLeaks-US-vs-China-in-battle-of-the-anti-satellite-space-weapons.html
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/wikileaks/8299408/WikiLeaks-the-race-to-take-control-of-space.html
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/wikileaks-files/china-wikileaks/8299317/REQUEST-TO-ALLIES-FOR-NEW-DEMARCHE-TO-CHINA-REGARDING-CHI
    NAS-JANUARY-2007-ANTI-SATELLITE-TEST.html
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/wikileaks-files/china-wikileaks/8299318/CHINAS-ANGST-OVER-U.S.-SATELLITE-INTERCEPTION.html
    USA Department of Energy Report: Critical Materials Strategy December 2010:
    http://www.energy.gov/news/documents/criticalmaterialsstrategy.pdf

  6. part 4
    Zhang Anwen a leading Chinese government advisor and Deputy Secretary General of Inner Mongolia Rare Earth Guild who in Beijing conference Spring 2010 said:
    “Foreign countries should calmly and logically think about this and develop their own mines for their own needs. Our (China) resources are diminishing and we (China) need these minerals for our own use.”
    (Minutes 2:46 to 3:20 in the 6:19 minute video)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHs2lGsqFKU&p=19D44B68A08E1850
    My takeaway: In this world you need to find those few persons you trust. For me, Zhang Anwen is one of them.
    Kind regards,

  7. This is astounding–outrageous—frightening—appalling–and reminds me of the dialectic the leftists dish out.
    “…a DC report was forthcoming that would negate the need for creating self dependence on rare earth supply and would instead cite global interdependence and the benefits of Chinese economics in supplying cost effective REEs.”
    GLOBAL INTERDEPENDENCE…!!!
    This is the kind of foolishness this administration indulges in on a regular basis. We will be protected by global interdependence!!??
    Protected from what? Do they even have a clue what’s going on out there?
    They miss the point entirely. War with China–or anybody else–is not the greatest risk.
    The greatest risk is what is happening right now on a daily basis. China is taking over all sectors of business, taking with it entire supply chains. They exported minerals to raise cash to support the next step–becoming OEMs. Now they are busy diverting their mineral production to domestic use.
    The Chinese are not going to supply minerals in the future!!
    They have nearly cornered all electronics work. They’re on their way in aviation, automotive and energy. They’ve already eaten our lunch, and now they’re into our dinner.
    They own over a trillion dollars in US debt. And we keep in borrowing!!!
    Being able to defend ourselves in wartime has taken a backseat to being able to feed ourselves anytime. We desperately need a rare earth supply chain to begin the effort to revitalize our economy and give our children and grandchildren some kind of a “fair shot” at a decent future.
    It goes without saying that if we can’t feed and clothe ourselves without borrowing, then we won’t be able to mount a wartime defense.
    We know a service-based economy is akin to running a generator with an electric motor powered by a battery charged by the aforementioned generator. One need not be an engineer to see the end to that folly.
    We know that we cannot continue to live on borrowed money.
    The WTO? The Chinese play that group like a Stradivarius (or a Stratocaster, if you prefer).
    Global interdependence my a—.
    Disgusting, frightening, outrageous, I cannot list enough negatives to describe this.
    Leadership? You bet. Leading us into the land of servitude, poverty, misery…the new slavery, and it will engulf all without regard for race, religion or creed.
    We must reject this dialectic and replace it with common sense. WE must WORK. We must mine, refine, alloy, and create.
    Or a free people will die.

  8. Gareth, is Compass Diversified Holdings purchase of Arnold Magnetic Technologies on 6 March an insignificant event? It does not seem so to me, but I could be mistaken for some reason that I can’t perceive. I see a possibility that Compass was acting at the request of some other entity. The article above seems quite in the same vein.

  9. @robit: We need to be careful in these frenzied times that we don’t begin to see things that aren’t really there. I am unaware of any evidence that would suggest that the Arnold transaction should be considered a significant event.
    It is entirely common for private industrial companies like Arnold to be bought and sold by private equity and similar groups on a periodic basis. The purchaser acquires the company for a combination of cash and debt financing, uses the profits of the company in subsequent years to pay down the debt, and then flips the company for a multiple of what it paid, typically 5-7 years after the original purchase.

  10. Thanks for your thoughts. I will just assume that the folks at Compass are good at what they do and saw a good value. It does seem that their timing may have been very fortunate. Maybe it will be the other way around and GWG will be ready to be the purchaser in a few years. Quebec should get on with extending that railroad track northward.

  11. Do note that Arnold had been available for purchase for quite some time, and that this fact was fairly well known within the magnets industry. Again, this is not unusual.

  12. “for quite some time” Duly noted. Then the timing 2 days before the Neo purchase was just happenstance. I’ll have to plead that the behavior of the mining and resources market for many months has made me overly jumpy. The GQD link is at least a point to note for future remembrance and system modeling.
    Also, make that: tell LABRADOR to get on with extending that railroad track from Sept-Iles northeast and then northward.
    I’ll shift into RMB lurking mode now :-)

  13. @Robert Olson: Common sense? So tell me… if there is a ban on the export of Dy, Tb and Y, how is it possible that such material can be freely purchased in China and moved to Japan and elsewhere, via official channels (which, I can assure you from first-hand experience, is the case)?
    It’s because there is no such ban.
    This erroneous notion of a ban originates from a single report by a now-former Australian rare-earth junior-mining executive, who in August 2009 claimed that a contact of his in China had seen a draft report from a Chinese ministry that called for such a ban. The executive’s claim was never confirmed or corroborated, but was seized upon by the press as being the new policy of the Chinese government (as can be seen by the second- and third- and nth-hand reports you listed above).
    It wasn’t. There is no ban. If you’d like to buy some Dy, Tb or Y, you can easily prove this for yourself.
    Let’s be very careful not to confuse what China MIGHT do, with what it has ACTUALLY done.

  14. @Robert Olson: I’ve described for you above, an easy way to disprove your hypothesis (i.e. just order some material), should you have a genuine interest in finding out. You are of course entitled to your own opinion, but not, I’m afraid, to your own facts :-)

  15. Hi Gareth,
    You are smart guy and knowledgeable about many things.
    However, self-doubt is always a 2 way street.
    Exactly what has occurred within the REE space is not only technological expertise.
    Political realities “glossed over” by pundits and politicians must be gleaned from many sources.
    Like it, or not, Wikileaks discovered documents give a context within the rare earth drama has been partially revealed in part by the “unvarnished truth”.
    As mere peasants, how is the real reliable status of the REE past revealed to us, much less the future.
    Your argument is, as I surmise, “go and buy some DY”?
    Does buying DY today, prove or guarantee that DY was available for purchase continuously in the past, or more importantly, that Chinese DY etc. Shall be continuously available to ROW tomorrow or anytime in the future.
    I stand by “my proof”, I.e., 1. The words of trustworthy men, 2. My common sense, and 3. Numerous references relevant to past history.
    Kind regards,

  16. You claimed Dy, Tb and Y export are banned, not that they might be banned or unavailable at some time in the future.

  17. @Robert Olson: no, my argument was threefold:
    1) I have seen the details of actual transactions with my own eyes. I work closely with traders of these materials on a daily basis, one of whom happens to be the single largest importer of Dy product from China into Japan. He’ll be most interested to know about the ban that you say is in place, as he continues to move his product with no problems…
    2) The source of the rumor of a ban can be pinpointed to a single third-hand account of someone seeing a draft report (for which there is zero actual evidence of implementation).
    3) And yes, you could today, buy your own material.
    I will also throw in a bonus argument – that you can go find customs import stats for various countries and their imports from China, which will also show that imports have and continue to occur, of these materials, from China.
    But – you’ve evidently made your mind up on this, so I’ll leave it there.

  18. I stand by my statements.
    During the China/Japan fishing boat incident there was a ban of Dy Tb and Y.
    The Chinese denied such a ban happened, and the Japanese did not receive expected shipments.
    In the light of the wikileak documents, personally I have no doubt that a key REE ban did take place,
    and is likely to occur again at anytime, for the “slightest” of “overt” reasons.
    Kind regards.

  19. You’re doing a lot of slipping and sliding, but I’m not buying it. You claim there is a ban on Dy, Tb, and Y, not that there was a ban on them after the fishing boat incident. Moreover, I do not believe there was a blanket ban on export of REEs after the fishing boat incident, but rather a “ban” on export to Japan only.

  20. I respect your right to say what you feel.
    I also respect the reporters of the New York Times and many times agree with them.
    Might consider this article in part:
    “China has repeatedly cut its quotas for exports of rare earth minerals from government-approved mines and refineries in the last two years, while raising taxes on the exports. It separately imposed a two-month, unannounced ban on exports of rare earths to Japan during a territorial dispute last September and carefully checked other countries’ orders for rare earths to discourage trans-shipment to Japan.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/business/global/21rare.html?_r=1&src=mv
    Kind regards,

  21. I respect your right to say what you feel.
    I also respect the reporters of the New York Times and many times agree with them.
    Might consider this article in part:
    “China has repeatedly cut its quotas for exports of rare earth minerals from government-approved mines and refineries in the last two years, while raising taxes on the exports. It separately imposed a two-month, unannounced ban on exports of rare earths to Japan during a territorial dispute last September and carefully checked other countries’ orders for rare earths to discourage trans-shipment to Japan.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/business/global/21rare.html?_r=1&src=mv
    Kind regards,

  22. I shall respectfully say that any attempts by Gareth Hatch or me to reason with you appear beyond hope, and thus I shall terminate my efforts in this regard.

  23. Its incredible how 2 faced the USA is
    I can remember setting up a t-shirt factory in Vietnam as there was no quota to the USA
    Just when we started to produce the Vietnamese Government raised the issue of some compensation for the Agent Orange ie weapons of mass destruction that were used on the Vietnamese people. Within 2 months the quotas were imposed by the USA.
    The point is that the USA uses quotas for political purposes and so does China.
    Just because the USA dropped the ball and let all its industries breakdown ie REE’s, Graphite, etc. it does not have the right to go crying to the WTO. China has every right to do what the USA has done for decades.
    I suppose we could say the shoe is on the other foot now

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