The year was 1977...
The space shuttle had just made its first test flight. Elvis Presley was found dead, naked on his throne. Star Wars was released — and grossed $775 million while launching a $30 billion franchise.
These are just a few of the things most folks remember from 1977.
But 6,500 miles away, something much bigger was going on...
Something that would send a shockwave through the global manufacturing sector and spark a frantic search for new supplies of key raw materials that would keep the global economy from going into a tailspin.
You see, in 1977 Katangese rebels invaded Zaire and flooded the region's cobalt mines. These mines supplied 40 percent of the world's cobalt, and at the time, the United States actually got every single ounce of its Zairian cobalt from one single dealer: African Metals Corp.
This put the U.S. — and pretty much the entire industrialized world — in an extremely vulnerable position.
Because cobalt was not some random material with limited uses. Cobalt was an absolute necessity for the manufacturing of everything from aircraft engines and turbines to magnets and cutting tools.
As a result of the attack on the Zairian cobalt mines, the price of cobalt soared from $4.00/lb to $40.00/lb.
Certainly some folks made a fortune, but the end result was a carefully calculated, yet extremely rapid search for a new family of hard magnetic alloys that were not controlled by unstable regions.
What they eventually came up with was Neodymium Iron Boron (NdFeB).
But don't get hung up on the chemistry — that's not important. What's important is that in 1977, a handful of industrialized nations made a serious miscalculation...
And that miscalculation is about to make you insanely wealthy.
History Repeats Itself
In 1977, the race began to secure new magnetic alloys that would not be controlled by a single region.
Those who led this race failed miserably.
Sure, they were successful in identifying new materials that would alleviate cobalt supply disruptions. But what they didn't count on is the evolution of technology.
Few in 1977 could've ever predicted that in just 35 years, a major transition of our energy economy would be underway...
A transition that would spark a boom in domestic oil and gas production, launch the beginning of a worldwide conversion to alternative energy and transportation fuels, and put the global manufacturing community in the same vulnerable position it was in back in 1977.
Because you see, today's modern energy technologies — the things that make petroleum refining, wind turbines, fracking operations, and hybrid and electric cars possible — all rely on a handful of key elements.
And once again, nearly all of these elements are predominantly controlled and produced in one country.
If you're a regular reader of these pages, you're no stranger to China's control of the world's rare earth metals...
But a new study conducted by MIT researchers has found that China's control of two specific rare earth elements — neodymium (which is what they counted on to alleviate potential cobalt supply disruptions) and dysprosium — could be a lot worse than most folks realize.
Turns out one of the applications that could be most negatively affected by constraints on these materials is petroleum refining. And a large-scale shift from coal-fired power generation and gasoline-powered cars to wind turbines and electric vehicles could increase the demand for these two elements by as much as 2,600 percent.
The study also noted that in order to meet the coming demand, production of some of this stuff (particularly dysprosium), will have to grow each year at nearly twice the historic growth rate for rare earth supplies.
The negative implications of such a supply crunch are enormous — not only for the growth of alternative energy sources, but for the continued domestic production of oil and gas.
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So Why Am I Grinning Ear to Ear as I Write this?
Because thanks to my colleague Nick Hodge, we now have direct access to the only North American deposits of neodymium, dysprosium, and about a dozen other key elements that make China's supplies seem almost irrelevant...
And speaking of rare materials, Nick has been busy doing due diligence on another material that will soon become a linchpin in today's energy technologies — and beyond.
Discovered in 2004, the world's thinnest, strongest, and most conductive substance has already won two scientists a Nobel Prize.
One university researcher believes “nothing and no one will be safe from becoming obsolete.”
Nick is holding a free seminar on March 22nd that will detail the incredible story behind this material's discovery, the breakthroughs it will bring in energy, electronics, defense, and medicine — and, of course, what the company developing it stands to deliver for investors.
Don't miss Nick's special presentation on this "miracle material." Sign up to view it here.
To a new way of life and a new generation of wealth...
@JeffSiegel on Twitter
Jeff is the managing editor of Energy and Capital and contributing analyst for the Energy Investor, an independent investment research service focusing primarily on stocks in the oil & gas, modern energy and infrastructure markets. He has been a featured guest on Fox, CNBC, and Bloomberg Asia, and is the author of the best-selling book, Investing in Renewable Energy: Making Money on Green Chip Stocks. For more on Jeff, go to his editor''s page.