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Chinese Crisis in Rare Earth Metals – Afghanistan is Silicon Valley’s Savior

The new All-Electric Vehicle, the Japanese 2011 Nissan Leaf is a beauty to behold and an even more amazing experience to drive, if you take no offence to its exterior looking a lot like a 2010 Honda Fit. Yes Car Enthusiasts, finally something for you! The vehicles is set to be a sure fire hit with Japanese car owners, what with reports of Nissan Leaf seeing black on their balance sheets and  – finally – the golf cart quiet Nissan Leaf getting a noise make that you can customize. Thus, one can imagine, if you are creatively inclined, pre-loading a sound file into your ultra modern, ultra quiet 2011 Nissan Leaf to make it have the throaty roar of a Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 or even a 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8. What’s not to love about this car, reminiscent of the Volkswagen VW Beetle and its legion of faithful drivers, honking horns when passing each other on the Open Road. A bit of reassurance for those skeptical about All-Electric Vehicles or EV’s for short: 2011 Nissan Leaf have been drive tested since June 19th 2010 after the No. 3 Japanese company invited a boatload of journalists, government officials and interested technology geeks to have a look-see and they have since proven that they can manage at least a 100 km trek at speeds below 80 km/h before running out of charge. Not to mention the 20,000 pre-orders both Japanese and International.

By contrast, the American automaker Chevrolet, wary of the past adventures of Oldsmobile and battery powered vehicles, have opted for Range Extender Technology, which is effectively an All-Electric Vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and the chipmunk shaped 2011 Mitsubishi i-MiEV augmented with a super quiet Flex-fuel Electric Generator, much as the 2011 Chevrolet Volt is designed. Ultimately, price may dent the sales of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt slightly, but that may improve, especially when customers get wind of its 40 km range at speeds below 80km/h under battery power and 300 km range at speeds above 80m/hr on the range extending generator power. The American Government, keen to wean themselves from Oil before 2015, is on a tear to get American consumers interested in buying EV’s just like how they would buy smart phones, washing machines and other electric appliances. Pressure is also been placed on US automakers to make more fuel efficient vehicles, with average fuel economies of 62mpg. Did I forget to mention that the 2011 Chevrolet Volt has the personal endorsement of President Barack Obama, who recently did a photo-op with a Chevrolet? 2011 is truly the Year of the All-Electric Vehicle.

So how does China fit into this whole story is a bit interesting. China has the largest concentration of Rare Earth Metals, such as Lithium, which is required to make the Lithium-Ion batteries used in EV’s. To be precise, they possess 97% of natural reserves of Rare Earth Metals, with Lithium being among the rarest of these Rare Earth Metals and hardest to extract, third in the Periodic Table after Hydrogen and Helium. “Rare earth for China is like oil to the Middle East”. Thus are the words of Yuanta Securities analyst Min Li. With worldwide demand for Rare Earth Metals expected to peak by 2012, with demand exceeding supply by some 30,000 to 50,000 tons, new sources need to be found, and fast. This is because the estimated growth, albeit slow but is not a Tech Bubble either, as analysts J.D. Power and Associates projects a 7% adoption rate of EV’s by 2020 in the USA. With healthy pre-orders as mentioned above for the Japanese made 2011 Nissan Leaf, it is no wonder that China, just catching wind of what is going on, may be jealous, blocking the exports of rare Earth Metals to Japan. EV’s and the soon to explode demand for these energy efficient vehicles is catching the interest of shrewd investors such as Warren Buffett, who is a major investor in BYD Electrics, a Chinese mobile phone battery maker (open up your Blackberry and look at the manufacturer – it’s BYD!) with ambitions to make EV’s.

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Lindsworth is a Radio Frequency and Generator Maintenance Technician who has a knack for writing about his work, which is in the Telecoms Engineering Field. An inspired writer on themes as diverse as Autonomous Ants simulations, Power from Lightning and the current Tablet Wars.

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