Most people dont really know what rare earth elements are, and they are kept in the dark about most issues in life by the US media. But there is a great documentary running on PBS right now called "Hunting the Elements". Its a 2 hour show that very interestingly tells the story of the basic elements.
One thing they talked about was rare earth elements. The name is a bit misleading. These elements arent really rare. They are just difficult to separate because all 15 of them look almost identical on a chemical/atomic basis, unlike the other 73 or so elements found on earth. So its difficult to extract and separate them.
But in the US, we actually have a large supply that could be mined, and used to be mined. But then we stopped......... Then China took over, then all the industries that develop rare earth products went to China too! So we now have to buy all our rare earths from China, and they are VERY necessary in the production of all sorts of high-tech products, including strategic weapons!
But now China has decided to artificially limit their exports of rare earths. So, a company based in Colorado(Molycorp) decided to start mining rare earths in California, and began production at that mine. We are also behind in the ability to produce the more important products like rare earth magnets.
So Molycorp and others asked for loan guarantees from the US gov't to get up to speed, but Obama declined. But Obama did give over $500 to Solyndra. Here's the part of that story most people arent aware of. Had Obama given the loan guarantees to Molycorp and others, we'd be able to produce and mine the rare earths needed to make the rare earth magnets and such that are needed to cheaply produce the products that Solyndra was trying to produce. But since Obama didnt give them any loan guarantees to get them started, Solyndra wasnt able to procure rare earth products cheap enough to successfully produce their solar panels and other products, so they couldnt compete, and went bankrupt!
To make matters worse, Molycorp seems to be giving up on their Ca rare earth mine now, and that was to be the ONLY rare earth mine in the US!
If Obama wouldve put money into rare earths, Solyndra wouldnt be out of business right now! This is yet another example of his incompetence, but you wont hear about it on MSNBC or CNN.......
The article I got this story from is at Pittsburgh Tribune Review(pittsburghlive.com) look up "Government fumbles opportunity on processing rare earths"
Sorry, my right click button stopped working on my laptop, and I dont have a mouse here, so I cant leave links right now(I just paid $139 to have this computer repaired 2 weeks ago!)