by Stephen Bryen
CEO, SDB Partners LLC
The London Telegraph is reporting that China is sitting on a strategic stockpile of rare earth material. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/china-business/9377535/China-stockpiling-rare-earths-for-strategic-reserves.html )
The so-called rare earth minerals –there are 17 of them– are important for industry and for the military. Rare earths are used in computers, in lasers, in magnets, for radars, for television and computer screens, in batteries for hybrids, and for catalytic converters.
Ninety percent (90%) of rare earths are produced by China and China has started stockpiling rare earths and restricting overseas sales. This has caused alarm in the industrialized countries, especially Japan as the Japanese understand far better than others that China is a very strong commercial competitor and also very powerful militarily.
As a result, there has been a lot of scrambling around to replace potentially lost supplies from China including re-starting old mines outside of China (including the U.S.) and looking for other alternatives. The Japanese say they have found rare earth that can be pumped out from deep water off shore wells, but how cost effective this is remains to be proven.
A big commercial risk is that China will zig and then zag, and dump rare earth into the market at low prices, killing off non-Chinese commercial exploitation.
Is there an alternative?
In fact, there well may be. It is very likely that functional equivalents of rare earth can be produced synthetically and manufactured at very competitive costs, with little or no environmental impact.
How can this be done? It can be done with supercomputers and some advanced technology that was developed primarily in Canada by a small, innovative company called Innovative Materials Technologies (IMT).
Founded in 2004, IMT designs and engineers of advanced materials through unique quantum computational methods.
IMT leverages quantum mechanics, cluster computing, and proprietary databases to develop high efficiency materials and processes at the atomic scale, specifically designed to optimize engineering properties at higher length scales.
IMT’s proprietary Quantum Informatics Platform enables the foremost IMT Crystallographic Database to target and expedite the discovery of high performance materials for high value end-markets in various industries.
IMT has a Strategic Partnership with the National Research Council of Canada
to collaborate on research and development opportunities.
IMT already holds one patent for development of an analog rare earth material. With the right financial backing, there is reason to believe that IMT’s engineers and scientists could do for the rare earth sector what the company is already well along on doing for the aerospace industry where IMT engineers unique coating materials for jet engines and other aircaft components.
How does this come about? Combining different materials and figuring out how the combined materials will perform was, in the past, a trial and error problem. Once the number of materials grows, it becomes impractical to try and analyze how the combinations will likely perform, and the process is costly. However, much of the trial and error and experimentation can be eliminated by using supercomputers and materials databases to assess different combinations to arrive at the right result. IMT is one of the few organizations in the world that has mastered how to do this kind of work and has a proven track record of success.
It would make sense for both industry and government to develop an alternative to Chinese rare earth and to insulate themselves from price manipulation. IMT’s technology holds out this promise and assures that under all conditions rare earth material analogs will be available.