Tags: rare | earth | elements | defense

Defense Department on Hunt for ‘Rare Earth’ Elements

Tuesday, 07 Aug 2012 06:01 PM

By Patrick Hobin

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The Defense Department is on the hunt for scarce hard-to-find elements with superconductive or heat-resisting properties to be used to construct everything from stealth choppers to night vision goggles, Wired.com reported.

The 17 sought-after elements, called “rare earths,” have special physical and chemical properties that are used to make smartphones, hybrid cars, and military equipment. The Pentagon is seeking more of the elements but 95 percent of the market is controlled by China, Wired.com reported.

Instead of relying on China, the Department of Defense is asking scientists to come up with new ways to mine the “rare earths” in the United States, and to find alternatives, Wired reported.

“The Department of Defense relies on many products that incorporate materials that are not found or produced in sufficient quantities domestically to meet potential crucial defense needs,” an Office of the Secretary of Defense solicitation for research proposal said, according to Wired.

John Kaiser, a mining analyst and editor of Kaiser Research Online, told Wired that “in five years there will be rare earths produced all over the world and China will lose its edge.”

But the U.S. needs to move quickly, defense policy analyst Christine Parthemore wrote on Wired.com last year. “Unless America gets ahead of this problem, the United States will be unnecessarily ceding strategic advantage to commodity suppliers — all over pretty modest quantities of rocks and metals. Minerals should not command foreign policy or derail defense procurement.”


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