Rare earth elements are living up to their name.
China said it will cut the export of rare earth elements like neodymium by 35 percent in the first half of 2011 and plans to "strengthen the supervision and management of mineral resources mining [...] and deepen control over rare earth mining capacity and extraction," according to Reuters.
That's a higher rate than expected. In 2010, China dropped export quotas to 30,000 tons, down from 50,000 tons in 2009. In 2011, some believed the total could drop to 24,000 tons, or a 20 percent drop. A 35 percent drop could slash exports to 22,750 tons. Worldwide demand for rare earth minerals comes to around 50,000 to 55,000 tons a year, according to Mark Smith, CEO of rare earth miner/magnet maker Molycorp.
The cuts could be bad news for makers of wind turbines, electric cars and electric motors: rare earth magnets are crucial components in all of them. A 2.5-megawatt wind turbine contains approximately 4,000 pounds of magnets and rare earth materials account for one-third of the weight of those magnets. LCD TVs and medical imaging equipment rely on rare earths, too. Electric cars contain around 10 pounds of rare earth materials.
But this could be good news for Japanese conglomerates and Molycorp.
After China began to threaten to curb exports, Mitsubishi and the University of Tokyo began to tout efforts to recycle magnets from old appliances while Toshiba talked up a plan to get rare earths from uranium.
Molycorp, meanwhile, has seen its stock rise from an IPO price of $13 in July 2010 to over $50. It has a market cap of over $4 billion. Chevron spun it off to private investors for $80 million in 2008. Go figure. The company has a fertile, but currently moribund, rare earth mine in California and a deal to make magnets with Hitachi.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., NovaTorque is trying to popularize an electric motor that doesn't need rare earths.
-Agility Fuel Systems raised $22 million today from Element Partners and others. The company sells fuel systems for heavy duty trucks that run on natural gas, hydrogen and other natural gases and can even retrofit the trucks. Element has a history of investing in sort of gritty green technologies like this. Agility was created out of a merger of two companies called FAB AFV and Enviromech.
-Telvent, the supplier of elegant software to utilities and the grid, has won a contract with the Inter-Regional Distribution Grid Company in Russia to help it manage and track energy distribution, gain visibility into customers, etc. The company serves all 11 time zones in that country -- sync that! The first part of a three-phase pilot begins in November and the whole thing should be complete by 2012.
--JinkoSolar has won a contract to supply 1.3 megawatts of modules to Premier Power, a developer in California.
--Sustainabilitty Roundtable received $1.2 million from the Navitas Capital and the Massachusetts Green Energy Fund. The firm advises corporations on sustainabiity with a particular focus on buidlings. Navitas focuses exclusively on green building.
--Vestas won a contract to supply 25 turbines to a wind park in Tianjin. See, the West can too sell stuff to China.