But Dent said that finding U.S. workers with the right education, and some experience with magnets, is becoming difficult. But "China has research centers with thousands of qualified people," he said.
There's discussion about creating substitutes to rare earth materials that could reduce some of the demand, but Gareth Hatch who also at Technology Metals Research, says substitution is difficult and not quickly accomplished. He said the focus should be on producing rare earth materials.
In the U.S., Molycorp is working on resuming production in Mountain Pass, Calif., the site on the long standing rare earth mine.
The Congressional Research Service, in a report last month, warned of potential shortfall of rare earth elements as demand rises. By 2014, global demand may exceed 200,000 tons per year, but production may only reach 160,000 tons. But, "in the long run, however, the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) expects that reserves and undiscovered resources are large enough to meet demand," said the report.
Long term, "I really don't think there will be an issue," said Hatch, in meeting supply needs, "it's just getting through the next one to two years," he said.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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