Notes From TREM’10 – Day Two

by Gareth Hatch on March 21, 2010

in Event Reviews, Lithium, Rare Earths

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Yesterday I published my notes from the first day of the Technology and Rare Earth Metals for National Security and Clean Energy meeting [TREM’10] that took place in Washington D.C. Today in this article are my notes from the second day of the meeting.

The morning kicked off with a keynote address from US Representative Mike Coffman [R-CO], who the day previously had presented the RESTART Act to Congress as the first step in working to pass the proposed Bill into law. The Congressman went through some of the details of the Act.

Unfortunately I had to keep popping in and out of the morning sessions, and I do not have extensive notes from all of those presentations. I was able to hear the keynote address from Marcia McNutt, Director of the United States Geological Survey though. Some of the points that she made:

  • The imports and export of raw minerals in the USA is fairly close to being in balance; it is in the area of processed minerals that there is at present a significant imbalance. This has to be kept in mind when deciding where to focus attention at the Federal level.
  • The USGS is a part of the Department of the Interior [DoI]. During a recent DoI strategic planning session, a scientific approach when undertaking the endeavors of the DoI was explicitly mandated for the first time – “providing the scientific foundation for decision making“. As a scientific agency, this gives the USGS an important voice.
  • The USGS is the only official non-fuel minerals data source for the Federal government.
  • The USGS will be completing a commodity review of rare earths in Fiscal Year 2011.

The second part of the conference on Thursday was devoted to break out sessions, in which the attendees were split into two groups, and assigned moderators who switched with each other half way through the afternoon. The intend of the sessions was to generate an atmosphere for lively and candid further discussions on some of the topics presented for consideration at the conference, as well as the RESTART Act bill that was presented to the US Congress on the day before.  For the most part this approach actually worked, at least with the group in which I participated.

These sessions were conducted confidentially under the Chatham House Rule, which states that:

“[w]hen a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

For this reason, I am not at liberty to disclose who said what during these sessions, but I will summarize a few of the comments and points that emerged from the session in which I participated:

  • The lack of substantial scientific or technical knowledge among members of the US Congress is a concern, though there are a handful of potential “go to” individuals who do have a scientific or technical background.
  • When it comes to making progress with proposed legislation, a series of small steps is likely to be more effective than trying to do everything at once.
  • There was general agreement that the intent of the RESTART Act might better be served by changing references to the “domestic” supply chain, instead to the “North American” supply chain. Others indicated that this should in fact refer to the global supply chain, and that this supply chain needed to be competitive, use state of the art technology, needed money to support necessary R & D, and needed access to reasonable instruments of credit, credit terms, loan guarantees or even loans directly.
  • It wasn’t until the supply of oil was identified as a national security issue, that the issue of dependence on foreign oil was given a lot of attention.  It was suggested that the same might be said for the US dependence on foreign sources of technology and rare earth metals.
  • An interesting question was posed: what might the availability of a special set of, say, 500 work visas to Chinese and other scientists with expertise in rare earths, do to kickstart the rare earths supply chain once again in the USA?
  • Another interesting suggestion was to find the best technologies from around the world, and to introduce them into the USA, regardless of national origin.

The moderators summarized the discussions from the sessions, with a view to presenting a summary of the findings in the form of a white paper to the US Congress.

Overall, TREM’10 was an effective forum, with an unusually diverse range of opinions expressed on the topics at hand, even during sessions when the Chatham House Rule was not enacted. One observation: I tend to get far more value out of so-called panel discussions when the panelists keep any presentations to a minimum, allowing for lots of time for the panelists to actually *discuss* the topics, and to answer attendee questions. Some of the panels at TREM suffered from a lack of such discussion, which was unfortunate. For the most part though, this was not an issue.

That’s it for now!

[First published at RareMetalBlog.]

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