Friday, March 20, 2009

Disappearing Elements? - Part IV

Yet another element has turned up on the “Where’s it going to come from in the future?” list. (See my earlier posts). Recently, Fetzthechemist discussed the use of Nd-Fe-B magnets slated to be used in upcoming wind-to-energy conversion devices. His point was that the world’s current capacity for producing neodymium was insufficient to meet these future needs. This doesn’t mean the project is necessarily doomed. As a general rule, the inevitable price spikes which occur whenever demand exceeds supply often leads to the discovery of new, albeit more expensive, sources and methods of extraction. But at what point does the difference between running out of an element and being unable to use it due to cost become moot? Developers of new technologies will need to start paying more attention to the future availability of their starting materials. Maybe those alchemists obsessed with the transmutation of metals were just preparing for the future.

I’ve also noticed that many of these disappearing elements seem to be associated with new energy technologies. My first post on this subject came after reading a stock analysis criticizing a company’s (First Solar) plan to significantly increase their solar cell production – a plan which would have required using 16% of the world’s current capacity of tellurium. Hopefully this is not a trend which will continue.

On the brighter side, my son no longer needs training wheels for his bike. My enthusiasm, however, is somewhat dampened by the soreness which I’m now experiencing after having spent yesterday running along side his bike, trying to help him maintain balance, while accelerating down our street. (Our sub has no sidewalks) He was probably ready to learn this last summer, but we never got around to it. So it took him less than a day to learn, to my great relief.

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