Holding Together

The waters on the surface of the earth flow together wherever they can,

as for example in the ocean, where all the rivers come together.

Symbolically this connotes holding together and the laws that regulate it.

Natural resource and commodity issues on a global and local level.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rare Earths: world map

In conjunction with the rare earths recycling story and previous postings here, including the downside of mining rare earths, here's a useful map the New York Times put out two days ago:

Rare Earth Independence via Recycling and Recovery

Excerpted from     

While rare earth elements are actually found throughout the earth’s crust, they are not often found in high enough concentrations to be economically exploitable. Currently, China produces about 97% of the world’s rare earth elements as concentrations are high there and barriers to mining are practically non-existent.  For many years, American manufacturers were happy to pay to import them from China because the price was right, and the obstacles to mining for them here were numerous.
     However, China has recently reduced its quota of rare earth element exports, sending countries such as the U.S. and Japan into a panic. Due in part to its control over most of the world’s rare earth element supply, China’s own cleantech industry is booming. In order for other countries to stay in the game, rather than handing over almost all production of electronics and cleantech products over to China, they must find ways to loosen China’s stronghold over these materials.
     One solution that many countries are pursuing is local mining. But while there are other sources of rare earth element ores, such as in the United States, Canada, and Australia, more test drilling and economic feasibility studies must be conducted before mining can begin. Even then, it may take years before any of these mines would be ready for production. The bureaucracy involved in obtaining the proper permits in the U.S. and the valid protection of endangered species that have also made utility-scale PV installations and transmission lines a not-so-simple endeavor are also obstacles to domestic mining of rare earth elements.
Another possible solution to this problem is to recover these elements from the waste created in the manufacturing process. As a leading exporter of the world’s electronics, and major consumer of rare earth elements, Japan has begun to develop various recovery methods, ranging from chemical to biotechnological processes. Teams from the University of Tokyo and Osaka Prefecture University, and from Hitachi in the private sector, have succeeded in metal separation and recovery. However, these processes are not more cost-effective than importing from China, even at higher import rates. The work and research taking place in Japan is important, but has not yet proven to be a viable replacement for Chinese imports. In order to reduce dependency on China, more efficient recovery methods must be developed.
     One way to recover rare earth metals that is being developed in the U.S. is through the proven wastewater treatment method of flash vacuum distillation, which separates clean water from pollutants in a controlled atmosphere chamber. With this technology, industrial wastewater can be treated, while recovering valuable rare earth elements.

Wind power becoming cost-competitive with coal

     More good news on the renewable energy front Monday: The cost of onshore wind power has dropped to record lows, and in some regions is competitive with electricity generated by coal-fired plants, according to a survey by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a market research firm.      "The latest edition of our Wind Turbine Price Index shows wind continuing to become a competitive source of large-scale power," Michael Liebreich, Bloomberg New Energy Finance's chief executive, said in a statement.

more @ Grist

Rising food prices and political instability

from Yale e360:

Rising food prices and a shortage of critical crops is fueling political instability in numerous regions worldwide and might have contributed to uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, according to international food experts. While food costs were not the primary reason for the unrest in those nations, recent public uprisings do illustrate the risk when such stresses are added to existing political problems, Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, told the Guardian. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, food prices reached a record high in January for the seventh consecutive month. Its food price index jumped 3.4 percent from December to the highest level since 1990, when the UN started measuring food prices. “It’s easy to see how the food supply can translate directly into political unrest,” Brown said. In South Korea, which imports about 70 percent of its food, President Lee Myung-bak has urged the formation of a national task force to procure food supplies in the face of these rising costs.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Severe drought in northern China

full story @ The New York Times:

A severe drought in northern China has badly damaged the winter wheat crop and left the ground very dry for the spring planting, fueling inflation and alarming China’s leaders.
Rising food prices were a problem last autumn even before the drought began, prompting the government to impose a wide range of price controls in mid-November. The winter wheat crop has been parched since then in northern China while unusually widespread frost has hurt the vegetable crop in southern China, and state media began warning a week ago that price controls on food might not be effective.
Some of the driest areas are close to Beijing, which has had no appreciable precipitation since Oct. 23, although there were brief snow flurries on Dec. 29. If the drought lasts another 11 days it will match one in the winter of 1970-71 as the longest since modern record keeping started in 1951, according to government meteorologists quoted by state media..
Particularly hard hit have been Hebei Province, which is next to Beijing and which President Hu visited from Tuesday to Thursday, and southern Shandong Province to the east, which Mr. Wen visited on Wednesday and Thursday. The dirt in farmers’ fields has become bone dry and is easily lifted by breezes, coating trees and houses in fine dust.
Food prices have been rising around the world, a result of weather problems in many countries like the unusual heat wave in Russia last summer. High food prices have been among the many reasons for protests in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.