U.S. energy firms still getting China rare metals

WASHINGTON Tue Oct 26, 2010 4:36pm BST

A man works at the site of a rare earth metals mine at Nancheng county, Jiangxi province October 20, 2010. REUTERS/Stringer

A man works at the site of a rare earth metals mine at Nancheng county, Jiangxi province October 20, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Energy is not aware of any U.S. clean energy companies experiencing disruptions in their rare earth metal shipments from China.

However, Diana Bauer, who heads the DOE's Critical Metals Task Force, said some clean energy companies have contacted the department to express concern about future disruptions in such exports from China.

"They're concerned there might be," Bauer told reporters on the sidelines of a rare earth metals conference in Washington.

Concern is growing that China, which controls 95 percent of world trade in rare earth metals, might cut back its exports of the metals that are used to make energy efficient lighting, solar cells, wind turbine magnets and electric car batteries. The metals also have defense and other high-technology applications.

Recent reports that China halted shipments of rare earths to Japan during a sea territory dispute raised fears that China could use its global dominance of the metals as a political lever.

Bauer said the Energy Department is expected to release its strategy in December for boosting global production and diversifying supplies of rare earth metals.

Diversifying is important to the Obama administration because of the White House's efforts to promote clean energy technology.

Bauer said the department's plan will look at short-term ways to increase rare earth metal production over the next five years and longer.

She said the department received about 1,000 pages of comments from 35 companies on how to boost rare earth metals production.

(Editing by Russell Blinch and Lisa Shumaker)