Tag: Praseodymium

The Earth Metal Problem

Freakonomics has a great post up that should give the environmentalist weenies fits:

Electric cars are all the rage today, but some of the smartest people I know believe that moving towards electric vehicles is a terrible idea. Looking casually as an outsider at the unappealing economics of electric vehicles (the need for a new and immensely expensive infrastructure, cars that cost much more than either traditional gas engines or hybrids, limited ranges and long recharging times), I find it hard to understand why the Obama administration is pushing electric cars.

One argument I’ve heard is “national security,” the idea being that electric vehicles would make the United States less dependent on imported oil. Be careful what you wish for, however, because if electric cars become a mainstay, we may be trading one dependence for another that is even more troubling. Ninety-five percent of the world’s output of rare-earth metals today comes from one country: China. By some estimates, demand will outstrip supply within five years. At least with oil we know there are fifty years of oil reserves readily available. Moreover, oil is produced all over the world, limiting the monopoly power of any one country.

To be fair, elements like dysprosium and praseodymium — how geeky is it that I can spell those correctly from memory? — are not economically viable to dig up unless you have a steady supply of slave cheap labor, which China has. As demand for these metals surges, the price will go up and domestic mining will become more feasible. Of course, our government is currently subsidizing electric cars and therefore distorting the market. And China’s embargo on Japan has already caused a mad scramble for metals.

What this story really demonstrates the stunning lack of thought that goes into so-called green industries. Rare earth metals are a pretty significant thing to be thinking about when it comes to electric cars. We can’t just wish them out of the ground through the power of positive liberal thinking. At some point, we’re going to have to start mining them — with all the pollution that entails. What will the greens do then?