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China Rules the Rare Earth

China Rules the Rare Earth

China rules the rare earth – Al Jazeera English.

In our digital world, the construction of all electronics relies on a set of materials with an almost primitive name: rare earths.

According to Wikipedia, rare earths are:

a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanoids plus scandium and yttrium.  Scandium and yttrium are considered rare earth elements since they tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanoids and exhibit similar chemical properties.

 

Despite their name, rare earth elements are relatively plentiful in the Earth’s crust, but because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms known as rare earth minerals.

While previously, South America and then South Africa were large producers of rare earth, now:

China controls no less than 95 per cent of the global production of rare earth.  The key player in this high-stakes game is Baotou Steel Rare Earth Group Hi-tech Co., from Inner Mongolia – the worlds largest producer of rare earth elements.  China has imposed export quotas on rare earth elements for three years – to boost its own high-tech industries.  The Chinese master plan is to develop sophisticated smelting techniques for rare earth – instead of simply selling the raw product.

 

Late last year the US Energy Department listed the Top five “critical” rare metals for the production of clean energy; dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium and yttrium. They are all essential for the production of hybrid vehicles and optic fibers, for instance.

 

From a Pentagon point of view, more critical are the rare earth metals on which the humongous American industrial-military complex depends for aviation engines and missiles. Once again, China is the only global supplier.

 

Up to 2025 the US will essentially depend on China to have access to these rare earth metals. So what to do? There are three possibilities; develop replacements, boost recycling or increase local production of rare earth – for instance by investing $500 million in a giant mine in California.

With export quotas by China and increased commodity prices from quantitative easing in the United States and Europe, rare earths and other important technological metals (such as lithium for batteries) will continue to play a major role in public policy for advanced nations.

BryanF- I have been reading about the rare earth battles for a while.  China’s ability to put a stranglehold on our construction of missiles and other weapons technology is troubling.  To me, that means we should either commit to making fewer missiles (hah) or more quickly cultivate our own supplies in the United States.  This seems like a great opportunity to put people to work providing more raw materials domestically.

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