Supercomputer great success for China

China’s world-leading new supercomputer, Tianhe-1A, is built on a foundation of general-purpose computing and graphics processing units (GPUs).

… on Oct. 28, Tianhe-1A achieved a sustained performance of 2.507 petaflop (2.507 quadrillion calculations every second)… [It is configured] with 14,336 Xeon X5670 processors and 7,168 Nvidia Tesla M2050 general purpose GPUs.

The next fastest computer in the world is Jaguar, a Cray supercomputer at Oakridge National Labs in Tennessee, in the U.S.A. It’s peak performance is 1.75 petaflop. Tianhe-1A is 1.425 times faster than Jaguar.

China Designs and Builds Fastest Supercomputer in the World

Tianhe is the Fastest Supercomputer in the World

via Supercomputer Tianhe great success for China: says German expert.

Published in: on November 13, 2010 at 11:50 am  Comments (1)  
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High-speed rail from China to California

Earlier this morning I was reading a surprisingly, pleasingly blunt BBC article, about California’s trade mission.  The actual title is Arnold Schwarzenegger sells California to East Asia! While visiting, Governor Schwarzenegger wanted to have a look at the latest high-speed passenger rail transportation technology.

The State of California, with its $19 billion deficit, is investigating public transportation alternatives used in other parts of the world. Japan is interested in contracting to build the trains and loaning California the money to pay for the work. China is too.

How high-speed rail came to China

China has the world’s longest high-speed rail line. However, the expertise to develop and build it was largely contributed by European and Asian countries with advanced technological skills in everything from control systems to laying tracks.

When the Japanese and European companies that pioneered high-speed rail agreed to build trains for China, they thought they’d be getting access to a booming new market, billions of dollars worth of contracts and the cachet of creating the most ambitious rapid rail system in history.  What they didn’t count on was having to compete with Chinese firms who adapted their technology and turned it against them just a few years later.
Train Makers Rail Against China’s High-Speed Designs

There will be some fascinating intellectual property issues should China decide to enter the high-speed rail market as a producer and exporter, given the origins of the technology.

China will also experience market-based challenges in the form of competition from countries such as South Korea, who has worked in a contractual arrangement with the EU’s high-speed TGV passenger rail. Both South Korea and Japan would be eager to work with U.S. government or government-funded entities, whether state of federal, in upgrading our nation’s passenger rail service.

California’s fascination with rail transit

California’s history with high-speed rail goes back to 1982, during the days of Governor Jerry Brown. With just a single law, Brown created a California High Speed Rail project and exempted it from California Environmental Quality Act rules. In 1996, the state legislature created a High-Speed Rail Authority. Last year, the California State Auditor expressed some concerns about the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority: “It Risks Delays or an Incomplete System Because of Inadequate Planning, Weak Oversight, and Lax Contract Management”.

Re-patriation initiative

Demanding transfer of advanced technology from foreign companies, in exchange for access to China’s vast domestic market, has become something of a Chinese national economic strategy.  Despite being forward-looking, China is already encountering challenges that come with a global race to the bottom.

Shanghai authorities have revealed that they are using a database of Chinese students studying abroad in a bid to attract top talent back to the city. The database is populated with information corresponding to Chinese students attending the world’s top 100 universities…
Student database used in Chinese “re-patriation” effort

Rare-earth metal sources and shortages

A better title would have been Postcard: People’s Republic of China, except for the fact that I’m in Arizona. Let’s begin with the possibly impending rare-earth metals shortage.

What are rare-earth metals?

A shortage of rare-earth metals seems arcane. What are they? Depending on who you ask, they are 15 to 30 elements with the following common properties: A silvery or grey appearance, high luster that is quick to tarnish in air, and very high electrical conductivity.

Rare-earth metals are not all that rare. They earned their name from the tedious process by which they were extracted prior to advancements in metallurgy in the 1950s.

Periodic table

Lanthanide series and a few more: The rare-earth elements

Here is a most beautiful periodic table of the elements by Perioden System. If you like the periodic table, I recommend having a look at their interactive version. Super-high resolution downloads are available free.

The 17 elements that are universally considered rare-earth elements are also known as the Lanthanides. The name is appropriate, as it is derived from the Greek lanthanon, meaning “I am hidden”. The Lanthanides are on the bottom drop-down of the chart, numbers 57 lanthanum, through 71 lutetium. Elements scandium and yttrium comprise the rest of the rare-earth metals. Several members of the second series, the Actinides, are sometimes classified as rare-earth, including thorium and uranium.

Precious metals, which are refined from the elements gold, platinum, palladium, silver, rhodium and iridium are NOT rare-earth metals.  This confusion is common. Referring to the periodic table will clarify, as precious metals have atomic numbers 45 through 47 and 77 through 79.

China mines 95% of the world’s rare-earth metals

Physics Today Online

Impending rare-earth metals shortage?

The People’s Republic of China has global dominance of rare-earth ore mining. This presents a geopolitical risk exposure, as the United States and the rest of the world have been highly dependent on China as a source of rare-earth metals for decades.

Demand for rare-earths is expected to increase as green technologies gain more acceptance and use. Special batteries use rare-earth metals, such as the batteries in mobile phones. Hybrid car motors require magnets made from dysprosium, element 66. Permanent magnets made from neodymium are the strongest magnets made, and used for munitions and guidance systems. All of the heavy rare-earth metals such as dysprosium are mined in China.

“Heavy” refers to heavy nuclei, which simply means a larger number on the periodic table. In general, the heavier nuclei rare-earth elements are the most sought after.

Expertise is more limited than reserves

Supply is not the only problem. A third of the estimated reserves of rare-earth elements are in the United States. However, concentration of rare-earth mining activity has shifted the world’s rare-earth knowledge base, from the United States and South America, to China. Most of the world’s material scientists and geologists who are experts in rare-earth metal mining and metallurgy reside in China.

Consequences of expertise localization are dramatic. The division of General Motors researching miniaturized magnets shut down its US office and moved the entire staff to China in the late 1990s.

According to a May 2010 article in Physics Today, Concern grows over China’s dominance of rare-earth metals, the owner of Mountain Pass mine in California said,

Little rare-earth expertise remains in the US. I have 17 engineers and scientists competing with over 6000 scientists in China. And I can’t find any students from any university in the US that have any experience with a rare-earths curriculum today.

USGS summary of RE element mining activity

Rare-earth oxide production per year

On September 1, 2009, China announced plans to cut its rare earth mining quota to 35,000 tons per year in 2010 – 2015, in order to conserve scarce resources. Illegal rare earth mines are common in rural China and release toxic wastes into the general water supply, presenting environmental concerns.

Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 1:45 am  Comments (5)  
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