#TMS2013: Sustainable Access to Rare Earths is critical to National Security
Shortages of rare earth elements limit the United States’ ability to produce the defense systems of the future. China does not have a geological monopoly on rare earths but it has been allowed to develop a production monopoly while the developed (and allied) nations gradually gave up rare earth mining in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. China’s dominance in rare earths production has been facilitated by comparably shoddy environmental mining standards and lower costs.
This leaves US industry and defense technology exposed to rare earths supply risk.
Rare Earth mining is complex and the development of new resources to offset Chinese trade restrictions is necessary. The Pentagon has rightly expressed concern that the US defense industry is vulnerable to the current logic of Chinese dominance in the rare earths market. The fact that many current civilian technologies share components and engineering with civilian ones also creates complex logistical issues. Sub-contractors supply many essential components that are dual use, making it more difficult to manage the sourcing process. Ultimately, the biggest vulnerability for the defense sector is that when there is a shortage of rare earths, one cannot simply look up the next supplier in the roster; time and investment are needed to secure a dependable domestic rare earth supply is considerable. A new approach is needed. Short of developing alternative materials, it is time to consider easing the mining regulatory framework to help promote rare earth production in North America and other more reliable jurisdictions.
At the end of 2012, the DOD took steps to start addressing some rare earths supply risks, aiming toward greater self-sustainability. It signed a series of special contracts with US based potential producers of neodymium-iron-boron magnets and equivalents from the raw supplies to the finished product. The DOD, therefore, has been trying to reduce its vulnerability to the whims of national and corporate material and technology producers. The DOD has suggested stockpiling of critical minerals as a solution, but while this is valid in scope it is flawed in execution. The Strategic Materials Advisory Council (SMAC) fears the DOD is still limited to China as the source for the time being. SMAC favors more encouragement for US mining and industry in securing these critical materials locally or in allied countries.
The relationship between defense and security needs and the demand for rare earths and critical elements as just described will be addressed by the #TMS2013 panel entitled: “Self-Sustainability and the Impact of Strategic Materials on Defense Needs: missiles, space vehicles, aeronautics, ammunition, navigation equipment.
James B. Hedrick, President of Hedrick Consultants Inc and Sr. Editor, REEHandbook.com will moderate the panel. James is uniquely suited to discuss issues related to strategic minerals and the defense sector. He served as the rare-earth commodity specialist for the US Geological Survey for 31 years. He has studied all aspects of the rare-earth elements for the US Government since 1981. James is a member of the Strategic Materials Advisory Council, which supports policies and strategies aiming toward a fairer international trade regime for critical minerals and technologies and a more reliable industrial and technology base for US national security.
The panelists are:
Steve Constantinides, Director of Technology at Arnold Magnetic Technologies Inc. (Arnold). At Arnold Mr. Constantinides has overseen the development and growth of bonded rare earth magnets, increasing sales, building the Magnetics Technology Center, and, among other things, leading the research & development and engineering activities. Arnold supplies magnets for the reprographic, aerospace & defense industries along with related components for electric motors and many others.
Jeff Green, Founder & President J.A. Green & Company. Jeff has over 16 years of experience in the Department of Defense and on Capitol Hill; Jeff has the expertise to understand the complex world of government relations and the relationships to put clients in a position of strategic advantage. Jeff most recently served as Staff Director to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.
Byron King, Editor, Outstanding Investments, Energy & Scarcity Investor Agora Financial. Byron is a Harvard-trained geologist and former aide to the United States Chief of Naval Operations, Byron is Agora Financial’s resident oil and energy expert and editor and he draws on vast expertise and connections in global resource industries to bring the very best opportunities in energy, mining and precious metals.
James McKenzie, B. Comm. Finance, President, CEO & Director Ucore Rare Metals Inc. (TSXV: UCU | OTCQX: UURAF) is an entrepreneur with over 25 years experience managing, owning and operating companies within the Canadian private and public equity sectors. James is ideally suited to discuss matters related to materials self sustainability as Ucore has been contracted by the DoD to perform a mineralogical and metallurgical evaluation of the Company’s Bokan Mountain heavy REE (HREE) mine in southeastern Alaska to determine this property’s ability to meet DOD requirements in the long term.
REE and Defense & Aerospace Applications
From the defense technology standpoint alone, rare earths have been essential to the advancement of aerospace technology. Rare earths are used in stealth radar evading technology, in targeting mechanisms for missiles and temperature resistant magnets and materials used in jet engines and aerofoil components in manned aircraft and increasingly in unmanned drone aircraft, which are playing an ever more important role in special operations. Missiles use samarium-cobalt (Sm-Co) magnets as do the ion plasma propulsion engines of future spacecraft. This is hardly science fiction and deep space exploration needs rare earth magnets, which are used in ion engines.
Samarium cobalt (SmCo) magnets were first tested in October 1998 in NASA’s Deep Space 1. In the post World War II period, solid fuel rocketry was seen as the main tool to explore outer space. Today, as the distances that can be reached start to match our technological capability, rockets are no longer sufficient. NASA’s ‘Curiosity’ rover, which successfully landed on Mars, recaptured the collective imagination in space exploration and will likely be the first of many more similar space travel missions propelled by rare earths based technologies.
Neodymium-iron-boron magnets are able to withstand extremely high temperatures and are used in special munitions. Cerium and other rare earth elements are used to produce phosphors in lighting, radars and night vision equipment; even the ’humble’ smart-phone can become an invaluable piece of defense equipment, facilitating communication. While not a rare metal in the chemical sense, rhenium is a highly temperature resistant element that is needed to produce the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft to be supplied to the US and many of its NATO partners.