In 2010, when industry and governments around the world woke up to the fact that China had developed a near monopoly on the production and supply of rare earth minerals, alarm bells sounded and industry and government leaders went looking for experts to consult on the issue. One of the people they quickly identified was Rod Eggert, director of Mines’ Division of Economics and Business.
“I was one of the early writers on this topic,” says Eggert, explaining that, in 2007, he was invited to chair a National Research Council committee that authored the book, Minerals, Critical Minerals, and the U.S. Economy (National Academies Press, 2008). His experience on this book sharpened his interest, and he’s been researching and writing on the issue ever since.
In September 2010, he testified in front of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Energy, discussing the many ways this family of elements at the bottom of the periodic table has become integral to materials used in modern electronics, weapons systems and alternative energy technologies, primarily due to their unique electrical and magnetic properties. In January 2011, he traveled to Brussels to deliver a similar message to the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.
Eggert is currently helping to consolidate Mines’ activities related to rare earth minerals and other mineral resources, working in collaboration with Murray Hitzman and Thomas Monecke in the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, Corby Anderson and Patrick Taylor in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, and others on campus.
The area is a natural progression for Eggert, whose career has been centered on mineral economics for almost three decades. “I’ve been interested in the economics of mineral resources my entire career,” says Eggert, who worked for Resources for the Future, a social science research organization in Washington, D.C., and taught at Penn State before coming to Mines in 1986.
He traces his interest in mineral economics to the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 and 1974. The images of Americans queuing for hours to fill their vehicles with gasoline and the related plunge in the stock market came at an influential time in his education.
He was attending Dartmouth College and trying to decide on a major. “I was good in science but also interested in international affairs and public policy. Then I took a geology course, and that led me to become a geology major.” After graduating in 1978, he attended Penn State, where he earned a master’s degree in geochemistry and mineralogy, and a PhD in mineral economics. While rare earths have occupied much of his time recently,
Eggert has several other projects under way. He is in the midst of a study of the world’s uranium supply for the next 30-years, where it will come from, what it will cost, and how supplies might be constrained. He is also working with a team of faculty members and graduate students to assess the value of recyclable materials such as aluminum, steel, glass, paper and lead found in municipal solid waste.
Eggert also enjoys teaching. “I like the challenge of trying to organize and introduce material in a way that engages students,” he remarks. “Over time, you probably have to answer almost every possible question about a topic and must do that on the spot, without the ability to research it and polish your answer,” Eggert says. “You have to think on your feet.” This semester, he is teaching Economics and Decision-Making.
In his free time, Eggert enjoys running and skiing. He lives in Littleton with his wife, Ruthann. Their son is a pilot in the Air Force, and their daughter is wrapping up her last year at New York University.