Steve Freiman, ACerS past president, was a guest on the Kojo Nnamdi radio show on Monday to discuss the science and politics of rare earth elements. Sharing the studio with Freiman was Richard McGregor, Washington bureau chief of the Financial Times. Nnamdi is based at WAMU at American University in Washington, D.C.
The issue lit up on Nnamdi’s radar when the United States recently asked the World Trade Organization to settle a long-standing trade dispute with the Chinese earlier this week.
Freiman explains how they are used in applications, how their electronic structures give them their unique properties and make it difficult to find substitutes. He also talks about the difficulties connected with mining of rare earth ores, the pending reopening of the Molycorp mine in the US, urban mining and more.
Coincidentally, Freiman wrote (with Lynnette Madsen) an article on this topic for the April issue of The Bulletin. The article (pdf), “Issues of scarce materials in the United States,” discusses critical raw materials in terms of the ideas of scarcity and criticality of raw materials, including rare earths. Frieman was a member of the 2008 National Research Council Committee on Critical Material Impacts on the U.S. Economy.
The interview is the first 28 minutes of Monday’s broadcast. Nnamdi asks insightful questions and does a good job balancing the scientific and political challenges involved with the rare earth issue.
The April issue of The Bulletin is available online now, and will land in mailboxes later this week.