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back to article Samsung to throw fat wad of Won at rare earth alternatives

Samsung is ploughing 1.5 trillion won (£869m) into an ambitious decade-long research project, some of which will be used to develop alternatives to rare earths – those substances vital to the manufacture of a huge range of hi-tech products. The Samsung Future Technology Cultivation Project will feature 27 research areas: 12 …

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Anonymous Coward

They'll start growing it in a lab and then patent it.

Or am I thinking of someone else?

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I remember reading an article about analysing trees to see what minerals (particularly gold) were in the soil. Scaling that up so it’s economically viable to effectively mine the trees (or other plants) seems unlikely, at least without some GM thrown into the mix. Would be a radical shift in the mining industry if it was possible though.

Good luck to them (and the stretchy silicon people too).

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Not quite correct

That "someone else" will watch how others mine and extract rare minerals from dirt and then claim a patent on it, because the vast majority of the buckets used on digging machines have rounded corners.

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Anonymous Coward

Help

OK someone help me out here. Rare Earths aren't exactly rare. The only reason most supplies come from China is because they priced supplies so low it made other sources uneconomical.

So why would The Great Copier(tm) spend a big bucket of fun tickets looking for alternatives to minerals that aren't rare. Why not simply buy controlling stakes in some mines ?

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Re: Help

It's messy and expensive. They'd lower their own costs and reap the benefits of owning the patients on environmentally less destructive technologies. Most likely they’re getting tax breaks for the R&D too so it’s a win-win scenario for Samsung. Just glad to see someone is putting the money into basic research.

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Re: Help

*Finding* rare earths is not terribly difficult - they are not especially rare.

*Mining* rare earths is not terribly difficult either.

*Transporting* rare earths is easy - all you need is a big truck. Compare to things like iron ore or coal or bauxite where you need hugely expensive capital works like railway lines and gigantic new port facilities just to get the economies of scale you need.

*Refining* rare earths is harder, and refining rare earths without creating a lot of very nasty pollution as a side effect is harder still.

The reason China has dominated rare earth supply isn't really its ability to monopolise supply of the raw materials - you can easily find plenty more the Chinese don't own in Canada, Australia, and various other places. No, China's quasi-monopoly exists because not many other countries are prepared to either (a) tolerate the pollution rare earth ore processing creates, or (b) go to a lot of trouble and expense processing rare earths in an environmentally acceptable way. Why do either of these when you can just buy the stuff from China?

Over time, we will see China crack down on more of its cowboy industries (which will tend to reduce supply and increase the price of rare earth materials); and we will see additional sources of supply come on-line from outside China - this is happening already, but it all takes time and money.

Good to see Samsung thinking outside the box here.

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Re: Help

One of the commonest REE bearing ores is Monazite which when processed for the extraction of REEs leaves a fair amount of radioactive stuff behind including Thorium.

For many people having large piles of radioactive spoil lying around is quite upsetting except for a couple of countries, India being one of them who are also looking into power production via Thorium, India has a lot of Monazite and if they get their power stations up and running at the same time as developing the refining of the REE content India may become a major supplier of certain rare earths.

An article touching the surface of some of the problems with REEs is http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-09/an-lynas-corporation-sparks-fresh-anger-in-malaysia/5011284 .

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Re: Help

Actually, China owns most of the decent prospects for rare earth mines in Canada, especially tantalum.

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