Rare Earth Recovery Enthusiasm

The recent drum beating over Chin’s so called monopoly on rare earthsis amusing.  High prices have nowencouraged the world’s miners to dust off those old assay sheets to see justhow much they have been throwing out all these years.

Here Toshiba is taking note of the secondary content in its uraniumores.  It is apparently notinsignificant.

My point is that a flood of rare earths are a few recovery circuitsaway at a lot of mines unless I miss my calculation.  This is a particular example and it is notinsignificant.

ToshibaMulls Getting Rare Earth Metals From Uranium
It’sthe nuclear option.

Toshiba has developed a technique to recover rareearth materials and rare metals from a solution from which uranium has beenextracted.

The technique revolvesaround recovering dysprosium and neodymium from liquids via a fused-saltelectrolysis method. The company will conduct field tests of the technology in Kazakhstanwith help from Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation.

If the new technologybecomes widely used at uranium mines in Kazakhstan,it will recover enough amounts of rare earth materials to provide about 5% ofthe rare earth materials that are used for rare-earth magnets in Japan,the company said.

Rare earth elements --which are used in the magnets in electric vehicle motors -- are all over theheadlines these days, thanks to the veiled threats from the Chinese governmentto limit exports. Chinamines around 97 percent of the 17 rare earth elements. In 2009, export quotassat at approximately 50,000 tons. This year, China dropped it to 30,000 tons andfurther cuts slated to take effect next year could drop it to 24,000 tons. Boththe expected shortages and the continued uncertainty are worrisome.

“This is an immediateconcern,” Molycorp CEO Mark Smith told Greentech Media in an interview. “A lotof people we are signing long-term agreements with are very tired of notknowing day-to-day. You have no idea what to expect.”

Molycorp's stock hasexploded since then.

Japan, in particular,has been active in finding ways to get around China's current monopoly on thesupply of materials. Both Mitsubishi and the University of Tokyo are studying magnet recycling.(In a separate effort, Toyotais examining how to recycle nickel, which is not a rare earth element but is acommodity that fluctuates in price, for use in its hybrids.) Others, likeNovaTorque, have come up with electric motors that don't require rare earthelements.

For more on Toshiba'sefforts, please go to TechOn.

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