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  • richardmitnick 8:20 pm on April 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Rare Earths   

    From GIZMODO: “The Future of Technology Is Hiding on the Ocean Floor” 

    GIZMODO bloc

    GIZMODO

    1
    Artwork via Sam Woolley

    In March 1968, a Soviet Golf II submarine carrying nuclear ballistic missiles exploded and sank 1,500 nautical miles northwest of Hawaii. Five months later, the US government discovered the wreckage—and decided to steal it. So began Project AZORIAN, one of the most absurdly ambitious operations the CIA has ever conceived.

    The potential payoff of Project AZORIAN was tremendous—a detailed look at Soviet weapons capabilities, and maybe some highly coveted cryptographic equipment. But the 1,750-ton submarine had sunk to a depth of 16,500 feet, and a massive recovery ship was needed to haul it up. So the CIA recruited Howard Hughes to provide a cover story that would explain why it was building a 619-foot-long vessel.

    Hughes, the story went, was going to mine manganese nodules—potato-sized rocks that form naturally on the abyssal plains—through his holding company Summa Corporation. A billionaire industrialist building a crazy new ship to seek treasure on the ocean floor? It sounded plausible enough, and the public bought it.

    “At the time, people didn’t realize this was all a big ploy,” oceanographer Frank Sansone of the University of Hawaii at Manoa told Gizmodo. “What’s fascinating is that the CIA’s cover story set up a whole line of research about manganese nodules.”

    Over the years and decades to come, private industries would discover that manganese nodules contain tremendous quantities of rare earth metals—precious elements at the core of our smartphones, computers, defense systems, and clean energy technologies. We have an endless need for these metals, and limited land-based supplies. Now, forty years after that CIA plot, we’re on the verge of an underwater gold rush. One that could, one day, allow us to tap into vast rare earth reserves at the bottom of the ocean.

    “You can basically supply all the rare earths you need from the deep sea,” John Wiltshire, director of Hawaii’s Undersea Research Lab told Gizmodo. “All of the technology needed to do so is now in some form of development.”

    But even if we desperately want to, mining the seafloor for rare earths isn’t going to be easy. Like Project AZORIAN, it’s going to be fraught with technical challenges and enormous risks.

    The term “rare earth” is misleading. A group of seventeen chemically similar elements—including the 15 lanthanide metals, scandium, and yttrium—rare earths are actually plentiful in Earth’s crust. Cerium is more abundant than lead, and even the least common rare earths are hundreds of times more plentiful than gold.

    2
    Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium. Image: Wikimedia

    But because of their geochemical properties, rare earths don’t tend to form the metal-rich ores that make mining economical. Some minerals, like the bastnäsite found in the only rare earth mine in the US, can contain up to a few percent rare earth oxides. More often, rare earths are dispersed at vanishingly low concentrations. To get at them, huge volumes of rock are crushed, then subjected to physical separation, caustic acids, and blazing heat. It’s a costly, labor intensive process, and it produces an unholy amount of radioactive waste.

    We don’t mine rare earths because it’s easy, but because we need them.“The technology sector is completely dependent on these elements,” Alex King, director of the Critical Materials Institute, told Gizmodo. “They play a very unique role.”

    There are innumerable ways these metals make our tech faster, lighter, more durable, and more efficient. Take europium, used as a red phosphor in cathode ray tubes and LCD displays. It costs $2,000 a kilo, and there are no substitutes. Or erbium, which acts as a laser amplifier in fiber optic cables. It costs $1,000 a kilo, and there are no substitutes. Yttrium is sprinkled in the thermal coatings of jet aircraft engines to shield other metals from intense heat. Neodymium is the workhorse behind the high-performance magnets found in nearly every hard disk drive, audio speaker, wind turbine generator, cordless tool, and electric vehicle motor.

    The list goes on. Cancer treatment drugs. MRI machines. Nuclear control rods. Camera lenses. Superconductors. Rare earths are essential to such a bevy of technologies that a shortage would, according to the Natural Resources Council, “have a major negative impact on our quality of life.”

    That reality makes the US government very worried. Because today, we’re entirely dependent on rare earth imports. And most of those imports come from China.

    For decades, an American company called Molycorp produced most of the world’s rare earths, at a mine in Mountain Pass, California. But by the mid-1980s, enormous rare earth deposits were being discovered in inner Mongolia and southern China. With cheap labor and virtually no environmental regulation, Chinese mining companies were able to undercut the US industry throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Unable to remain competitive and facing public criticism over its environmental impact, Molycorp shut down its mining operation in 2002. By 2010, China controlled 97 percent of the market.

    Then China started flexing its muscles. First, it slashed rare earth export quotas, restricting the global supply. In September 2010, a maritime border dispute prompted the Chinese government to temporarily suspend all rare earth exports to Japan. These events sent shockwaves through the international market. Rare earth prices soared as technology companies quickly filled inventories to protect themselves from a future supply disruption. Economist Paul Krugman denounced US policymakers for allowing China to acquire “a monopoly position exceeding the wildest dreams of Middle Eastern oil-fueled tyrants.”

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    Production of rare earth oxides from 1950 to 2000. Image: Haxel et a. 2002

    Six years on, fears of China’s rare earth dominance wound up being unfounded. The scare motivated other countries to ramp up their rare earth production, breaking China’s stranglehold. In late 2014, the World Trade Organization ruled against China for improper trade practices, compelling the government to abolish its rare earth quotas entirely. Prices plummeted.

    Nevertheless, fear of a future rare earth shortage has had lasting effects on US policy, prompting the Department of Energy to pour millions into basic research on reducing our use of rare earths and recovering them from existing products. Some industries have cut back—Tesla doesn’t use rare earths in its batteries or motors—but for other applications, that isn’t yet feasible. And demand for these metals is only going to grow.

    “In an economy where the use of rare earths is growing, you cannot recycle your way out of trouble,” King said. “Eventually, there will have to be new mines.”

    In the shadowy fringes of the US intelligence community, tensions were running high. It was the summer of 1974, and after six years of preparation, the CIA’s submarine salvage operation was finally on. The Hughes Glomar Explorer, a 36,000-ton beast of a ship designed to pull an entire submarine to the surface from 20,000 feet under, was like nothing anyone had ever built. Trap doors opened below the water line into the middle of the ocean. A three-mile retractable pile system, outfitted with a claw-like capture vehicle, would descend to the seafloor and haul up the Soviet vessel.

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    The Hughes Glomar Explorer. Image: Wikimedia

    The operation wound up being a major disappointment. As the submarine was being lifted to the surface, it snapped in two. Some two thirds of the wreckage, including nuclear missiles and naval code books, are said to have plunged back to the seafloor. Aside from the bodies of six USSR naval officers, it’s unclear what the Hughes Glomar Explorer hauled up. As Wiltshire told Gizmodo, “There are at least three different versions of this story going around. We’ll never know exactly how much they brought back.”

    The CIA considered a second recovery mission. But before it could get approval, reporter Jack Anderson, who had been on Project AZORIAN’s trail for months, broke the story on national TV. Front-page stories revealing the truth about the “mining” operation soon appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and The New York Times.

    Subsequent recovery missions were scrapped, but Ocean Minerals Company, the consortium led by Lockheed Martin that had developed mining technology to recover the sub, spent the next few years steering the Hughes Glomar Explorer around the Clarion-Clipperton Zone—a 3.5 million square mile swath of the eastern Pacific—doing deep ocean mining experiments.

    “The CIA built ocean mining equipment that actually worked,” Wiltshire said. “Ocean Minerals Company went on to mine manganese nodules, and got a boatload through the early 1980s.” The expeditions drew attention to the riches on the seafloor, and a number of other government agencies and private companies started sponsoring their own deep ocean mining efforts.

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    A manganese nodule collected in 1982 from the Pacific. Image: Wikimedia

    Since the 1960s, mining companies have been attracted to manganese nodules mainly for their nickel, copper, and cobalt. But along the way, geologists learned that the rocks also contain rare earth oxides—in particular, the very rare and very expensive ones. “All the big land-based deposits in the world are almost solely light rare earths,” Jim Hein, an ocean minerals specialist with the US Geological Survey, told Gizmodo. “Deep ocean deposits have a much higher percentage of heavy rare earths. That’s the key difference.”

    At first blush, the concentration of rare earths in manganese nodules—roughly 0.1 percent—seems too low for commercial viability. But according to Mike Johnston, CEO of the deep ocean mining company Nautilus Minerals, rare earths can be co-extracted along with other valuable ores.

    “What these rocks are is essentially a manganese sponge that has soaked up a bunch of other metals,” Johnston told Gizmodo. “To extract those other metals out, you have to break bonds, either chemically or with high heat. Once you’ve done that, you can theoretically just extract each of the different metals, including rare earths.”

    Today, the global rare earth industry is producing a little over 100,000 tons of metals a year. In the Clarion Clipperton Zone alone, there are an estimated 15 million tons of rare earth oxides locked away in manganese nodules.

    The question is not whether the seafloor has rare earths. It’s whether we can get at them in a way that makes business sense.

    It’s been forty years since Project AZORIAN jumpstarted the deep ocean mining industry. We’ve not only discovered a potential fortune in manganese nodules, but a slew of other tantalizing resources, including sulfide deposits formed by underwater volcanoes, and deep sea ferromanganese crusts, which also contain rare earths.

    But as of now, not a single company has begun to mine seafloor minerals commercially.

    The open ocean is no longer the Wild West. In the decades since the Hughes Glomar Explorer first set sail, a UN-backed Law of the Sea Convention was enacted to regulate industry on the high seas. As a result, a group called the International Seabed Authority (ISA) is responsible for delineating deep sea mining zones and doling out permits in international waters.

    To date, more than a dozen companies have received exploration licenses to prospect manganese nodules in the Clarion Clipperton Zone, but nobody has been issued an actual mining permit—yet. First, the ISA is preparing regulations to prevent the ecological shit show that usually ensues when humans try to get their hands on a new chunk of Earth’s raw materials.

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    Exploration areas designated for mining companies in the Clarion Clipperton Zone in 2013. Image: ISA

    And indeed, many ecologists are downright horrified by the prospect of profit-hungry corporations scraping, digging, and chopping up fragile seafloor ecosystems for precious metals. “You’re talking 100 percent habitat destruction in the area you mine,” Wiltshire said. “And because these are thin deposits, you’re mining a large area.”

    We think of the deep ocean as a cold, watery wasteland, but manganese nodules, and other metal-rich environments on the seafloor, are brimming with fish and marine invertebrates. These critters tend to be highly specialized, geographically restricted, and not at all accustomed to disturbance. As marine biologist Craig Smith noted in a conservation planning paper published in 2013, it could take organisms living in the Clarion Clipperton Zone thousands to millions of years to recover from the impacts of mining.

    The concerns raised by Smith and others prompted the ISA to carve out a vast swath of the zone—roughly 550,000 square miles—for long-term conservation. But protected waters far beyond the seafloor might feel the impacts of ocean mining, too. By kicking up sediment, nutrients, and even toxic metals, mining may reduce water quality over vast regions of open ocean, impacting pelagic fish and marine mammals.

    For would-be miners, environmental concerns play into a bigger issue with deep ocean mining: the whole thing is a huge financial risk.

    Even as shallow ocean mining technology takes off—Nautilus Minerals hopes to mine its first seafloor sulfide deposits in 2018—our ability to collect manganese nodules remains limited. While several companies have trial-tested nodule collectors, we don’t yet have production-scale mining systems that can haul thousands of tons of rock to the surface 15,000 feet up. “To my mind, nobody’s really answered the question of how they’re going to harvest this material,” Sansone said.

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    Artist’s concept of a deep ocean manganese nodule mining operation, with autonomous robotic collectors, a transport system for conveying material to the surface, and a processing barge. Image: Aker Wirth

    Any company hoping to pull it off will first need to invest heavily in R&D, and prospect to find the regions of seafloor where nodules are most concentrated. And depending on how strict the ISA’s environmental regulations are, companies may not see a return on investment for a long time.

    Still, many experts believe a deep ocean mining industry is inevitable. “It’s a technical challenge, but we started developing this equipment when a Russian sub sank in 1974,” Wiltshire said. “It’s an environmental and investment delay rather than a fundamental technology delay.”

    Johnston agrees. “From where we sit, if I had an open checkbook, we could be up and trial mining in the Clarion Clipperton Zone in a few years,” he said. “Financing it is the big issue.”

    Forty years ago, the US government poured hundreds of millions into an audacious endeavor to dredge up a piece of military technology from the bottom of the ocean. Will private companies take the same plunge to bring us the metals behind the technologies we’ve grown to depend on?

    The stakes are not as high as they were when two superpowers stood on the brink of nuclear war. But in the future, they could be. There are over 7 billion people on this planet, and an ever-growing number of them want access to all manner of technology. As societies transition off fossil fuels, toward cleaner energy sources and quieter vehicles, demand for rare earths and other exotic metals is only going to grow.

    “At the end of the day, mining has impacts,” Johnston said. “But you have to step back and look at the bigger picture. If you don’t produce these metals from the ocean, you’re going to restrict yourself to a third of the planet. With the right management structures, we should be able to do this for the benefit of mankind and the planet in general.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:29 am on July 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Rare Earths,   

    From DOE Pulse: “Ames Lab scientist hopes to improve rare earth purification process” 

    pulse

    July 21, 2014
    Austin Kreber, 515.987.4885,
    ajkreber@iastate.edu

    Using the second fastest supercomputer in the world, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory is attempting to develop a more efficient process for purifying rare-earth materials.

    Dr. Nuwan De Silva, a postdoctoral research associate at the Ames Laboratory’s Critical Materials Institute, said CMI scientists are honing in on specific types of ligands they believe will only bind with rare-earth metals. By binding to these rare metals, they believe they will be able to extract just the rare-earth metals without them being contaminated with other metals.

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    Nuwan De Silva, scientist at the Ames
    Laboratory, is developing software to help improve purification of rare-earth materials. Photo credit: Sarom Leang

    Rare-earth metals are used in cars, phones, wind turbines, and other devices important to society. De Silva said China now produces 80-90 percent of the world’s supply of rare-metals and has imposed export restrictions on them. Because of these new export limitations, many labs, including the CMI, have begun trying to find alternative ways to obtain more rare-earth metals.

    Rare-earth metals are obtained by extracting them from their ore. The current extraction process is not very efficient, and normally the rare-earth metals produced are contaminated with other metals. In addition the rare-earth elements for various applications need to be separated from each other, which is a difficult process, one that is accomplished through a solvent extraction process using an aqueous acid solution.

    CMI scientists are focusing on certain types of ligands they believe will bind with just rare-earth metals. They will insert a ligand into the acid solution, and it will go right to the metal and bind to it. They can then extract the rare-earth metal with the ligand still bound to it and then remove the ligand in a subsequent step. The result is a rare-earth metal with little or no contaminants from non rare-earth metals. However, because the solution will still contain neighboring rare-earth metals, the process needs to be repeated many times to separate the other rare earths from the desired rare-earth element.

    The ligand is much like someone being sent to an airport to pick someone up. With no information other than a first name — “John” — finding the right person is a long and tedious process. But armed with a description of John’s appearance, height, weight, and what he is doing, finding him would be much easier. For De Silva, John is a rare-earth metal, and the challenge is developing a ligand best adapted to finding and binding to it.

    To find the optimum ligand, De Silva will use Titan to search through all the possible candidates. First, Titan has to discover the properties of a ligand class. To do that, it uses quantum-mechanical (QM) calculations. These QM calculations take around a year to finish.

    ORNL Titan Supercomputer
    TITAN at ORNL

    Once the QM calculations are finished, Titan uses a program to examine all the parameters of a particular ligand to find the best ligand candidate. These calculations are called molecular mechanics (MM). MM calculations take about another year to accomplish their task.

    “I have over 2,500,000 computer hours on Titan available to me so I will be working with it a lot,” De Silva said. “I think the short term goal of finding one ligand that works will take two years.”

    The CMI isn’t the only lab working on this problem. The Institute is partnering with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory as well as numerous other partners. “We are all in constant communication with each other,” De Silva said.

    See the full article here.

    DOE Pulse highlights work being done at the Department of Energy’s national laboratories. DOE’s laboratories house world-class facilities where more than 30,000 scientists and engineers perform cutting-edge research spanning DOE’s science, energy, National security and environmental quality missions. DOE Pulse is distributed twice each month.

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  • richardmitnick 3:12 pm on March 7, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Rare Earths   

    From INL: “Reverse mining: Scientists extract rare earth materials from consumer products” 

    INL Labs

    Idaho National Laboratory

    March 7, 2013
    Nicole Stricker

    “In a new twist on the state’s mining history, a group of Idaho scientists will soon be crushing consumer electronics rather than rocks in a quest to recover precious materials.

    So-called rare earth elements are deeply embedded in everything from fluorescent light bulbs to smartphones — and they’re critical for electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels. Because these materials are subject to supply disruptions, the U.S. Department of Energy is investing in solutions to potential domestic shortages.

    man
    INL scientists will use expertise from recycling nuclear fuel to support the Critical Materials Innovation Hub. The national effort led by DOE’s Ames Laboratory is working to secure the supply of rare earth metals and other energy-critical materials.

    Idaho National Laboratory scientists will contribute to that effort with expertise from recycling fissionable material from used nuclear fuel rods. They’ll now apply similar principles to separate rare earth metals and other critical materials from crushed consumer products. The work could also help improve extraction from the mining process.

    ‘We think of electronics as being a different kind of ore,’ says Eric Peterson, the business line lead for INL’s Process Science & Technology division. ‘Today’s consumer recycling efforts recover about 40 to 50 percent of the critical materials. Our goal is to get that to more like 80 percent recovery.'”

    mans
    Scott Herbst helps lead the INL scientists studying ways to recycle rare earth and other critical elements from discarded electronics.

    This is very important work. Other countries have the richest deposits of unmined rare earths. Some of these countries routinely manipulate the world supply. INL is hoping to help shield the U.S. from such tomfoolery. Always be sure to properly recycle discarded items such as those noted at the beginning of the article. See the full article here.

    INL Campus

    In operation since 1949, INL is a science-based, applied engineering national laboratory dedicated to supporting the U.S. Department of Energy’s missions in nuclear and energy research, science, and national defense. INL is operated for the Department of Energy (DOE) by Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) and partners, each providing unique educational, management, research and scientific assets into a world-class national laboratory.

     
    • Ovidiu Borchin 4:30 am on May 23, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Dear Sir,
      Please provide us more details.
      Thank you.
      Cordially,
      Dr. Ovidiu Borchin
      Carmit Chan Corporation

      Like

  • richardmitnick 7:08 pm on January 9, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Rare Earths   

    From ENERGY.GOV: “Ames Laboratory to Lead New Research Effort to Address Shortages in Rare Earth and Other Critical Materials” 

    AmesLabII
    Ames Laboratory

    January 9, 2013
    No Writer Credit

    “The U.S. Department of Energy announced today that a team led by Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, has been selected for an award of up to $120 million over five years to establish an Energy Innovation Hub that will develop solutions to the domestic shortages of rare earth metals and other materials critical for U.S. energy security. The new research center, which will be named the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), will bring together leading researchers from academia, four Department of Energy national laboratories, as well as the private sector.

    ‘Rare earth metals and other critical materials are essential to manufacturing wind turbines, electric vehicles, advanced batteries and a host of other products that are essential to America’s energy and national security. The Critical Materials Institute will bring together the best and brightest research minds from universities, national laboratories and the private sector to find innovative technology solutions that will help us avoid a supply shortage that would threaten our clean energy industry as well as our security interests,’ said David Danielson, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

    ‘The Ames Lab is the nation’s premier research center for rare earth materials’ science and technology. In responding to DOE’s call for proposals, Ames assembled a team that offers broad capabilities covering the full spectrum of critical materials research and development, from mining to separations, alloy formulations, component and systems development, and materials recycling. This team will enable the United States to continue as a global leader in research and development in diverse technologies such as communications, control systems and advanced energy systems,’ said U.S. Senator Tom Harkin

    See the full article here.

    Ames Laboratory is a government-owned, contractor-operated research facility of the U.S. Department of Energy that is run by Iowa State University.

    For more than 60 years, the Ames Laboratory has sought solutions to energy-related problems through the exploration of chemical, engineering, materials, mathematical and physical sciences. Established in the 1940s with the successful development of the most efficient process to produce high-quality uranium metal for atomic energy, the Lab now pursues a broad range of scientific priorities.

    Ames Laboratory shares a close working relationship with Iowa State University’s Institute for Physical Research and Technology, or IPRT, a network of scientific research centers at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

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  • richardmitnick 9:12 am on June 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Rare Earths   

    From Ames Lab: “Ames Laboratory and Korean Institute of Industrial Technology partner on rare-earth research” 

    Events of the past year indicate that this could be very important.

    Debra Covey
    June 7, 2011

    “The U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory announced today that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korean Institute of Industrial Technology, or KITECH. The agreement promotes international collaboration in rare-earth research.

    The memorandum establishes a framework for the Ames Laboratory and KITECH to work together to make advancements in rare-earth processing techniques, to transfer rare-earth discoveries to industrial applications and to educate the next generation of rare-earth scientists and engineers.

    ‘ International challenges call for international collaborations, and this Memorandum of Understanding brings together the principal centers of rare-earth research from South Korea and the United States, said Ames Laboratory Director Alex King. ‘ We look forward to collaborating on projects that benefit both nations.’

    i1
    King and KITECH President Kyoung-Hoan Na signed the agreement in Korea in April following the First International Workshop on Rare Metals, sponsored by the Korea Institute for Rare Metals, or KIRAM. King was an invited keynote speaker at the workshop. KIRAM officials also invited King to serve on its International Committee on Rare Metals.

    See the full article here.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:03 pm on February 15, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ames Labs, , Rare Earths   

    From Ames Labs: “New Material Provides 25 Percent Greater Thermoelectric Conversion Efficiency” 

    The breakthrough reveals another example of the strategic importance of rare-earth elements

    Evgenii Levin, Associate Scientist, Ames Laboratory
    Rama Venkatasubramanian, RTI International
    Steve Karsjen, Public Affairs

    “Automobiles, military vehicles, even large-scale power generating facilities may someday operate far more efficiently thanks to a new alloy developed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory. A team of researchers at the Lab that is jointly funded by the DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, achieved a 25 percent improvement in the ability of a key material to convert heat into electrical energy.

    See the full article here.

     
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