Thank you, Wen Jiabao.
If the executive team from Molycorp, a company that hopes to mine rare earth minerals, could get some facetime with China's premier, that's what they'd say.
The company's stock has nearly tripled since its lackluster IPO at the end of July because of fears that China will curb -- either temporarily or more permanently -- exports on rare earth materials like neodymium that get incorporated into the massive magnets inside wind turbines or into batteries that power electric cars. Even compact fluorescents need rare earth materials.
Today Molycorp's stock is trading at around $34.75 and has reached as high as $36. In July and August, the stock traded for around $12.
In October, reports began to surface that the Chinese government would curb exports of these materials to help its own industries. In response, Mitsubishi and others kicked off programs to recycle rare earths from discarded electronics. (The University of Tokyo also announced a technology to selectively separate and collect rare earth materials from used neodymium-iron-boron (Nd-Fe-B) magnets.) Meanwhile, Toyota and Sumitomo announced a plan to recycle nickel for hybrid batteries: nickel isn't a rare earth, but you can probably guess where it gets mined.
"We could face serious shortages in three years," Dave Goldstein of the Electric Vehicle Association told me yesterday in the hallway at The Networked EV conference in San Francisco.
The fears about China weren't present at the IPO. Molycorp had hoped to sell its shares for $15 to $17 each. Instead, it went out at $13.25 on July 29. The stock actually went beneath that mark on the first day of trading and continued to burble from there.
The company has developed a plan to mine rare earth elements in Mountain Pass, California. Molycorp garnered only $7.1 million in 2009, but wants to use the proceeds from the IPO to reinvigorate the mine. Molycorp says that the Mountain Pass mine is home to more than 2 billion pounds of REOs (rare earth oxides), giving it an estimated lifetime of 30 years. Pegasus Capital Advisors is one of the main investors in the company. Pegasus is an active investor in green building.
The mine will take hundreds of millions of dollars to reactivate, along with lots of time. Chinese policy tends to move quickly, so the stock could easily plummet again, but until then, have fun, you crazy day traders.
The rare earth group consists of 17 elements: the 15 lanthanide elements -- cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, praseodymium, promethium (which does not occur naturally), samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium and lutetium -- and yttrium and scandium.
Tellurium is not a rare earth, but rumors are swirling that First Solar may try to acquire 5N Plus to secure supplies of that somewhat rare element that happens to be crucial for making cadmium telluride solar panels.
Lithium is used in electric car batteries but is not a rare earth element. Lithium is third on the periodic table and, although some claim EVs could set off a run on lithium and perhaps spark "Operation Bolivian Freedom," many believe that abundant supplies of lithium can be found in the U.S.