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Video: Supply of critical rare-earth elements used in smartphones to expand

Tucked in the middle of the Desert, near the Nevada Border, Molycorp’s Mountain Pass, California mine specializes in finding rare earth elements hiding in regular-looking rocks.

Out of this barren desert-scape comes the critical elements for the devices many people count on.

Mark Smith, Molycorp CEO “If you and I can only buy Blackberry’s and iPhones that require rare earths but the only rare earths that go into them come from China—what happens if they pull that out of the supply chain?”

Molycorp is in a rush of building and improving its site to answer the U.S. call for more rare earth minerals, immediately.

John Burba, Molycorp vice-president of technology, “It’s very modivating… everyone is dedicated because they fully understand we have to supply non-Chinese elements to the industry.”

Molycorp is the only U.S. mine producing rare earth right now, during a period of upheaval and uncertainty in the rare earth market. The company invited reporters into its facility as it prepares to start processing rare earth, not just mining it, after nearly 10 years.

The process starts with collecting ore-laden rocks and crushing them. From here, the powder needs to be given a chemical bath to extract the elements.

Keith Long, U.S. Geological Survey “It’s stiff competition for the developing world…”

Keith Long is a mineral economist and geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He teaches graduate-level courses in mining at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

He says now is a critical time for non-Chinese sources of rare earth material to be harvested.

Keith Long, USGS “It’s a high priority from our government to advance for wind energy and rare earth. So we’re very concerned about the security and supply of those.”

Long is a consulting scientist for the Obama Administration’s scientific working group, looking into critical mineral supplies that China has cornered the market on.

More geologists like him will soon be combing the desert and plains of the U.S., most likely by next summer, to reexamine existing ore deposits for rare earth potential, and scout for new ones. In Mountain Pass, California, Kerry Davis, IDG News Service.


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