Read The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age by David S. Abraham Online


Our future hinges on a set of rare metals that few of us have even heard of. In this eye-opening book, a natural resource strategist reveals the critical importance of these transformative elements to our technological lifestyle and the consequences of our reliance upon them, including geopolitical instability and environmental degradation. To see our growing dependency, yOur future hinges on a set of rare metals that few of us have even heard of. In this eye-opening book, a natural resource strategist reveals the critical importance of these transformative elements to our technological lifestyle and the consequences of our reliance upon them, including geopolitical instability and environmental degradation. To see our growing dependency, you need only look at your smartphone: cerium buffs the glass; indium allows your screen to respond to touch; terbium makes images more vibrant; and lithium helps it store energy. Abraham provides readers with a front-row seat to the life of these metals, tracing the paths of these high-tech elements through a dozen countries from the mine to our pockets. But it’s not just smartphones that rely on these metals; they are the building blocks of modern society because they are critical for nearly all our electronic, military, and “green” technologies. Just as oil, iron, and bronze revolutionized previous eras, so too will these metals. The challenges this book reveals, and the plans it proposes, make it essential reading for our rare metal age....

Title : The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780300196795
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 336 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age Reviews

  • Clare O'Beara
    2018-12-11 13:52

    The rare earth elements and rare metals derived from them are increasingly in all our gadgetry, our jet engines, turbine blades and replacement joints, just as much as in our weaponry and our MRI scanners. Mining, refining, separating, producing, selling, trading, using, recycling and inventing are all covered in this great look at REEs, along with the author's experiences. Having witnessed first-hand how Japan backed down to China over sea territory, when Chinese merchants stopped trading REEs to Japan, the author is convinced that metals can replace guns in diplomacy. After war in Africa thirty years ago stopped supply of one metal, firms went looking for others, and the generations of work by metallurgists and chemists was put to use. The author also went behind the scenes to a mine in Brazil, which is a long-established big employer, noting that it is very hard to get permits to open a new REE mine. These elements are foul in their mining, production and use. Acids, bases and fouled water add to slag heaps and leachates to cause environmental and worker health hazards. The uses are manyfold of course; Steve Jobs is praised for his visionary application of REEs to touchscreens and smartphones, which may contain thirty different metals with names like caesium, lithium, terbium, praseodymium, yttrium etc. The more of these REEs we use, the lighter and smarter our gadgets can be. But they are very hard to recycle in such minute quantities. They are also limited in supply (being rare) and limited in the supply chain by mainly being produced in polluting China. The rest of us could produce them but don't want to so we externalise the cost. There's also a thriving black market.Now, I'll declare my interest in downloading this ARC from Net Galley; I write science fiction in which we are mining the asteroids, driven there by our endless need for REEs in the main. Other metals found there are also mined but on a nice to have basis, not need to have. Iridium, for instance, came to Earth with the meteor which killed off the dinosaurs. That being the case, I was astounded that this author confines his comments entirely to our own planet and its known resources. For anyone who wants to know about this topic, which has shaped our tech and will continue to shape our future, THE ELEMENTS OF POWER is a detailed, human and highly readable book. Well done to David S. Abraham for producing such a comprehensive, well-rounded and easy to follow account. I strongly recommend it to everyone using a computer or smartphone.

  • Angie
    2018-11-21 15:46

    I'll never see my electronic gadgets the same way again! In this amazing book, David Abraham surveyed our current uses of rare metals, where they come from, how dependent on them we are, and what those consequences are. There was a great balance of science and tech and international politics and policy. As we work to make our lives better, more convenient, and greener (think batteries!), we're using more and more elements most people have never heard of. And since we don't mine those elements here in America, we lack both the awareness and the expertise to grasp the effects. Abraham bemoans the lack of American study and oversight of the technological changes we've made: is it okay to rely on China to mine these resources for us, outsourcing our pollution? Japan recently learned the hard way that rare elements are the foundation of their tech economy -- when China withheld them, Japan capitulated to China's policy demands. A small fraction of American's recycle their gadgets, but even when they do, only a small fraction of the metals are recovered; can we make recycling more green? The stat that really got my attention early on in the book was the fact that, though an Intel chip in the 1990s was built with only 15 elements, today Intel chips are manufactured with nearly 60 different elements. The supply chain is not secure; in fact, most companies don't really know where this stuff is coming from. Our own military has only recently realized that the security of this supply chain is a new vulnerability and set out to study it. As a 21st-century nation, we don't really train people in mining anymore. Colorado School of Mines is pretty much the only institution doing it, and they're rather isolated and short on funds. Abraham calls for some action as well as awareness. These rare elements are already major international policy players. We should be organizing to ensure that we can influence how they are harvested, how much is supplied and how they are used. Before I read the book, that would have been a yawner for me. Not so anymore, which means that Abraham has a good chance of accomplishing what he set out to do. Now we just need to get enough folks to read it.I got a free copy of this from Net Galley.

  • Alia
    2018-12-04 16:30

    David Abraham has changed the way I look at all the gadgets and technology that surrounds us. He explains the facts and technical details in a way that everyone can understand. The poetic and vivid description of his journeys and fascinating characters places me there experiencing it with him. As I post this review on my iPhone, I now know what minor metal is needed to press submit. An amazing book!

  • John
    2018-11-22 15:36

    Amongst the flurry of books over the last few years focusing on the geopolitics of metals and mining, and in particular the so-called ‘critical metals’ David Abraham’s effort “The Elements of Power” promises a less-hyperbolic and more pragmatic approach to the subject, even offering some useful advice to policy-makers responsible for regulating this sector. In his own words: “My fear is that a lack of attention to and understanding… of the Rare Metal Age…, will limit our prosperity and undermine our environment. My hope is that this book… will serve as a rallying call to inspire a new generation to learn more about the ingredients of our gadgets, guns and sustainable future.”As a not-entirely uneducated reader on this subject, I can say that Mr. Abraham, a natural resource strategist, who has worked on Wall Street, for an African-NGO, the White House and the Japanese government, delivers on this promise. The book should be added to the shelf of anyone who wants to understand the future of mining, metals and raw materials supply to industry, or anyone who is involved with policy-making in these areas.Having met Mr. Abraham myself a few times at various obscure minor metals conferences in China, I can testify that the book has been extremely well-researched, undertaken over a period of several years. By way of disclosure, Mr. Abraham has been kind enough to include a few of my comments and observations on the industry in the book, so you will find me in the references and acknowledgements.I have noted that Mr. Abraham has often disappeared, from the conferences we were attending, for a day-or-two to track down an obscure metals plant or mercurial industry-insider. The critical metals issue is often presented as a grand geopolitical battle involving federal governments in China, the United States, Europe and Japan, with the WTO playing a brokering role. The minor metals industry, as the name suggests, however, is played out by small-scale business and industry, local government officials, family-run metals traders and one-man band analysts and advisors. As such, Mr. Abraham’s book undoubtedly benefits from his efforts to locate and introduce us to some of the interesting characters within the minor metals industry. The book starts with an introductory chapter on role of minor metals in the modern economy – a situation still not well-understood by much of the populace. Whilst not necessarily providing the backbone of the industrial economy they make the products we use that bit smaller, faster, cheaper and more powerful. This will probably be the first time many readers will have read about esoteric metals such as beryllium, bismuth, cadmium, cobalt, gallium, hafnium, indium, lithium, niobium, scandium, selenium, tantalum, tellurium, tungsten, vanadium, zirconium, and the ‘rare earths’. Following the introductory chapter Mr. Abraham takes us on a journey through the minor metals supply chain, with each chapter focusing on a key part of the supply chain, or a critical issue affecting the industry. Each chapter is enlivened by Mr. Abraham’s field visits and ‘local contacts’.The second chapter looks at the geological distribution of minor metals, and the inevitable geopolitical consequences of some being found in one place, but not the other – conflict of one form or another. The next chapter looks at the business of mining and its slightly grubby nature, dramatized by a field visit to the giant Araxa niobium mine in Brazil which dominates/controls global niobium supply – a metal which improves the performance of steel. Next he looks at the technical challenges of processing rare metals such as the rare earths, tantalum and niobium, and more importantly the lack of engineering talent in the West to do this. Almost inevitably Mr. Abraham finds himself in a former ‘not-on-the-map’ Soviet industrial city, now in Estonia, to find out about the lost art of rare metals processing, and suffering minor fluorine gas poisoning for his travails. Mr. Abraham then looks at how the metals find their way to the market, via network of small traders, including ‘Super Mario’ and a ‘Grateful Dead’ fan and small exchanges, including the Fanya exchange, one of a long line of failed Chinese financial exchanges. Having reached the market, Mr. Abraham then looks at the parts of the economy most reliant on the rare metals – starting with the tech sector, noting that a mobile phone now contains barium, beryllium, boron, cobalt, gallium, strontium, tantalum, titanium, and numerous rare earth metals. Of course, every other industrial sector is now reliant on the tech sector, only multiplying the problem – for example, Mr. Abraham tells us that a Boeing 747 requires six million components sourced from thirty countries. The next industrial sector covered is the nascent green economy, and the use of rare metals in critical new technologies such as wind turbines and hybrid cars. This presents a challenging paradox for environmentalists in that green energy requires more mining for these metals, which are often in the unregulated, disreputable fringes of the mining industry. The final industrial sector reviewed is the military-industrial complex, with rare metals inevitable in use in high-tech missiles and planes. The new F-35 is described as a flying periodic table. Much of the hyperbole about ‘critical metals’ arises from their use by the US military.To draw the book to a close, Mr. Abraham then looks to the future, trying to work out how we can balance our industrial growth and economic development without irreconcilably damaging our planet. The point is brought home with a visit to rural Jiangxi, China to see the environmental damage and exploitative working conditions of an artisanal rare earths mining facility – making the point that we in the West in many cases have simply outsourced pollution, rather than reduced it. The challenges of recycling minor metals that are found in just a few percent in most industrial products, highlights why we are still reliant on such mines in China to supply these metals. Mr. Abraham then reviews policy-making around the world in relation to the critical metals issue, finding the US and Europe somewhat behind China, Japan and South Korea in their thinking, despite calls for help from the WTO. In a magnificent final chapter, Mr. Abraham offers some pragmatic advice for policy-makers in the West, free from the usual self-interest that usually accompanies such advocacy (subsidies, patronage, etc.). The answer to securing stable supplies of these metals does not reside with the WTO, but in Western efforts to find and build more rare metal mines, advance our technical know-how of mining and processing them, establish robust and sustainable supply-chains, train more geologists and engineers, improve mining and industrial permitting procedures, and encourage transparency in metals’ markets, whilst avoiding wasteful subsidies, quotas and stockpiles. Simple, practical advice that surely is not too hard to deliver? Mr. Abraham’s new book, “The Elements of Power”, enters an area of non-fiction that, to date has been poorly-served by the book-writing community. Mr. Abraham has provided an invaluable popular non-fiction text which looks at a quite staggering range of issues in just 288 pages. It is accessible, concise and nuanced, even daring enough to offer some pragmatic advice on how governments and industry can better prepare for a future in which minor metals are bound to play a more significant role in the global economy.

  • Shyue Ping Ong
    2018-11-15 09:55

    This is an important topic, and as a materials scientist myself, I am glad someone is writing about it. However, I find the organization and writing far too sloppy. The best I can characterize the writing is like a brain-dump. There are long sections where the author goes from one point to another, without seeming any connection.

  • Erik Surewaard
    2018-12-08 14:52

    In case you never heard of “rare earth metals”, or dont exactly know what it is, this is a great introductory read.Discussed what it stands for, why they become more relevant over time, how they are mined, separated, sold, recycled... Discussed geopolitical and ecological impact.Also a nice writing style and the book has a great ‘flow’.

  • Peter Murray
    2018-11-16 12:35

    Abraham does a very good job at building the case that we need to be worried about our ever-increasingly high-tech world - and the ever-diminishing and unstable rare metals it will need. A fascinating and unsettling look into a world that most of us never even think of even if it makes possible all of the things we've surrounded ourselves with, embedded ourselves into and depend upon.

  • Guy
    2018-12-14 09:41

    Overall very interesting, if a bit depressing. It's hard to believe that rare metals can have such an impact on our daily lives. A good read if you're interested in technology or just want to learn a bit more about resource-based geopolitics, but a bit dry if you're not into that kind of stuff. Overall it has a lot of information but it can be a bit repetitive at times also. (I had to read this for a class).

  • George Siehl
    2018-12-10 13:40

    A very interesting overview of the role of rare earth elements and their importance in the world now, and increasingly, in the future. They are scarce, difficult to mine and process when found, and frequently cause pollution from mining to ultimate disposal. However, they are central to our high technology lifestyle, important keys to energy conservation, and gain more important uses every year. They are used in electric toothbrushes, light bulbs, smartphones, computers, communications, and military weapons, and almost anything electronic. The primary source of supply of rare earths is China. That fact is a center of geopolitical concern from both a military and an economic perspective. China is using the availability of these resources as a magnet to draw technology companies to itself from around the world, thus gaining economic benefits and new technology.Abraham notes that the U.S. has been losing its technological lead, and points out that only one U.S. University has a degree program in the rare earth elements. Further, we are training too few scientists, metallurgists, and materials specialists. This will make it difficult to match the increasing number of such specialists that are being trained in Asia.The many insights and examples Abraham provides may be valuable to those in diverse fields including science, technology, business, international relations and strategic planning. In closing he does offer suggestions on how the complex issues caused by these rare elements might be resolved.

  • Richard
    2018-12-02 15:51

    Very interesting read about Rare Earth and/or Rare Earth Metals which really describes the same thing: hard to obtain and/or rare minerals. Some are abundant, but are hard to access, process, etc. and they are alot of them that ordinary people like myself has never heard of. Of course, everyone has heard of copper, tin, aluminum, but the rare earths are in another category. They are really under are noses, because they are in a lot of electronics devices ie. - mobile phones, tablets, computers, tv screens, etc. The author also discusses the market and the traders of these minerals and how various countries are trying to cope with shortages and other possibilities. Interesting topic.

  • Joshua Waldorf
    2018-12-02 11:54

    The Elements of Power point out the conundrums facing the world in balancing the technological advances and conveniences we want, with the true environmental costs during the Rare Metal Age. The idea that mining and extracting the minor metals, that make electric toothbrushes, car or smart phones are devastating the environment. Or that to meet demand for minor metals will call for quadrupling output above today’s production furthering the degradation to our planet. The Elements of Power is a must read to everyone who loves our planet.

  • Denis
    2018-12-07 12:57

    I found this book eyeopening. In an age when so many of us now take our technology and devices for granted, this book starts a conversation that we ought to have more of. It reminded me that everything has an origin, and origins of our cellphones, smartwatches and other tech we use daily are not as shiny and clean and reliable as the final product. Great read!

  • Alexis
    2018-11-21 08:56

    A very readable introduction to rare earth metals, their mining, manufacturing, use, and future. I found the chapters on the interplay between serious mining of these materials and efforts to be green the most interesting.

  • Samuel Lubell
    2018-12-02 09:41

    The premise of this book is that rare metals needed for electronics will dominate the future and will cause national struggles. This is interesting but not convincing. For instance, he doesn't show why alternatives cannot be found for these metals. It is weak on solutions.