[vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Welcome to Khalifa’s California, an exploration of interesting and little known aspects of the state sure to elicit an ahh or ohm; an ah-ha or uh-oh; an oh-my or oh-no.

In late August Molycorp, the only rare earth mine in North America, sealed its Mountain Pass facility in California’s Mojave Desert and put 500 jobs at risk.

The mine, located in the unincorporated area of San Bernardino County near the Nevada border, was once one of the world’s largest suppliers of rare earth elements.[/vc_column_text][vc_gmaps link=”#E-8_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”][vc_column_text]

According to science experts, rare earth elements consist of unique magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties. Because the elements contain similar properties they are often found together in geological deposits.

Although few people are familiar with rare earth elements, their use has become quite common. As a matter of fact, humanity has grown fairly dependent on rare earth elements. Their unique qualities enable many technologies to perform with less weight emissions and energy consumption. According to experts, these rare earths allow technologies to perform with greater efficiency, miniaturization, speed, durability and thermal stability. They are used in catalytic converters, fluorescent lightning, computer memory, cell phones, medical scanning equipment just to name a few.

Rare earth elements are also frequently utilized by the defense industry in a number of military related items that range from night-vision goggles, precision guided missiles to GPS devices and communications equipment.

According to Geosciences News and Information, some examples of rare earth elements and their use include lanthanum used in night-vision goggles; europium used in the fluorescents and phosphors contained in lamps and monitors; and samarium used in precision-guided weapons.

Rare earths are classified as either light or heavy. Heavy rare earths are not nearly as common as the light variety. Also, elements of the heavy type are often required by manufacturers to be mixed with the light variety in order for them to retain their magnetism at higher temperatures.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row parallax=”content-moving” css=”.vc_custom_1445533600737{padding-top: px !important;padding-right: 150px !important;padding-bottom: 200px !important;padding-left: 150px !important;background-image: url(https://blackvoicenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/molycorps-history-img2.jpg?id=3498) !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/1″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]The Molycorp mine is home to one of the biggest, richest rare earth deposits of its kind in the world. In recent years the company, as a result of its Phoenix Project, was considered the most advanced production facility anywhere in the world.

Between 1965 and 1995 the mine provided most of the world’s rare earths. In 2002, the mine was closed when the price for rare earth’s fell precipitously and continuous environmental related problems made it difficult for the mine to continue operation.

As a result by 2010, the United States was heavily dependent on heavy rare earths imports from China—China controlled 99 percent of the world’s rare earth market. American energy experts expressed growing concern over what could happen to the economy if there was a disruption in the import stream of heavy rare earths from China. The same year Molycorp, who had purchased the Mountain Pass facility from Chevron in 2008, went public with an initial offering of $14 per share.

That same year, Molycorp announced Project Phoenix, a modernization/redevelopment effort aimed at making the facility environmentally compliant and conducive to more efficient and effective production of rare earths.  Molycorp was well positioned for a new lease on life. It had great plans. Its future looked bright. It hoped to yield great fiscal profits for its shareholders, create increased employment opportunities, and help save the day for the American economy, but, something went terribly wrong.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][vc_video title=”Molycorp – Project Phoenix” link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=id8hDUT5nHQ&list=UU96FUEp85Kk0PdKd9hp8jww”][vc_column_text]In 2011, Molycorp announced it expected to begin production of rare earths within a year. The earths would be mined from a lucrative ore deposit identified years earlier but never extracted.  Molycorp hoped to entice industries dependent on rare earths not to take their factories to China as heavy rare earths would soon be available again in America.

Subsequent to the announcement, Molycorp’s stock rose from just over $30 per share to over $79 dollars per share. The company was riding high; but, the ground shifted under its feet.

Automobile companies began designing more and more vehicles less and less dependent on heavy earths and the nation began a successful and measured transition to electric and hybrid vehicles that do not require rare earths in their design.  This shift reduced the annual demand for rare earths by thousands of tons per year. In addition, market experts also noted the impact on the rare earth market as a number of western countries and Japan moved factories dependent on rare earths to China to reduce overhead costs. These two issues combined to once again reduce the price of rare earths dramatically. The falling prices broke the economic backbone of Molycorp.

In June, 1.70 billion dollars in debt, Molycorp filed for protection under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and by the end of August, the company announced it was closing the mine.

Today, one of the world’s richest ore deposits of rare earths known to exist remains in-tact in the Molycorp mine. The millions of dollars invested by Molycorp to modernize the Mountain Pass facility were not enough to successfully compete with dynamically changing market forces. In the final analysis—the Phoenix could not rise.


 

Words by: S.E. Williams

Photos provided by: Molycorp and Patrick Edgett[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

S.E. Williams

Stephanie E. Williams is an award winning investigative reporter, editor and activist who has contributed to several Inland Empire publications. Williams spent more than thirty years as a middle-manager...