In Estonia this summer, I learned that Molycorp had acquired the Silmet rare-earth metals plant. This should be big news because the rare earths are important in many high-tech applications (your cell phone, for one), and China has recently taken a big lead in rare earth production. So big that it's been raising prices and generally acting like a monopolist.
But it's been hard to learn much about that acquisition from public sources, so it's not surprising that Brad Plumer and Bryan Walsh both have missed it.
They both point out that China's lead has come because it has been willing to degrade the environment in ways that are no longer acceptable in western countries. They talk about Molycorp's acquisition of California's Mountain Pass mine and its quest to find less environmentally-damaging ways of mining and processing the rare earths. But they don't say anything about Silmet.
Silmet has gone from being an environmental disaster to fully meeting European emission standards. I'd like to say it has no waste streams at all, but I'm not sure of that. I do know that the pipe to the tailings pond that I saw spewing water and sludge on my first visit there in 1998 is cut. And that part of the purpose of our NATO Advanced Research Workshop that October was to look at ways to end those emissions. From that, a plan was developed, funded, and executed to produce today's result.
So I'm hoping that Molycorp intends to learn from Silmet for improvements to its Mountain Pass operation.
I was wondering in an earlier post why Molycorp hadn't posted a news release on its acquisition of Silmet. Dan Yurman helped me out, and here it is.
Sillamäe's Soviet History