Rare Earths, Redux

Since my friend Ian has posted an update on the state of Helium, I thought I might also make a brief update my original post on rare earths.
Things have continued pretty much on the trajectory I mentioned in the first article. China still controls 95% of the world’s total rare-earth supply. The restricted supply of rare earth elements has continued to keep prices high and this has in turn continued to encourage either opening or reopening new rare earth mining facilities.
In particular, the company Molycorp announced on August 27, 2012 that it had resumed production at the Mountain Pass mine in California.
From their press release:

We began construction on the project in January 2011. The project remains on track to begin producing at our Phase 1 annual rate of 19,050 metric tons of rare earth oxide equivalent (REO). Additionally, we are on track to achieve our Phase 2 annual production capacity of 40,000 metric tons per year by mid-2013.

They are also, actively mining of 2,800 short tons of fresh ore per day, 4 days/week.


Existence by David Brin is a beautiful explosion of ideas. I enjoyed it very much. The style most reminds me of Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner but completely different in plot, of course.
The story begins with Gerald Livingston. Gerald is an astronaut who has been essentially relegated to space debris pick up duty. This is fairly mechanical work, but this time he snags something different–it seems to be of alien origin. We then switch focus between an online (this is a bit in the future, so online with a vengeance) reporter, a rich kid in an orbital race, a pot boiler writer in the employ of an anti-technology sect and an oligarchic cabal. Interspersed between these scenes are definitions of potential species ending problems, possible answers to the Fermi problem and scenes of the day.
As we travel through this journey of a novel, Brin shows us a future that seems quite a possible one into which we might stumble. The future is unevenly distributed. There are poverty striken lows and technological highs, there are plotters and paupers and it felt fairly plausible. As the book progresses, it skips forward in time a couple of times and so we get a view of some of the possible outcomes. A fast paced overview of potential futures. Cool.