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China's Rare Earth Near-Monopoly Could Last 15-Years

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The U.S. Department of Energy yesterday released a 171 page report titled "Critical Materials Strategy which mainly deals with the availability of critical rare earth elements. Read More

China currently owns or controls between 90 and 99 percent of most of the critical rare earth element supply in the world and it is suggested that the country is using that industrial muscle to influence countries dependent on the supply such as Japan (electric cars require rare earth magnets.)

Various rare earth elements are critical for military and civilian applications including such basics as cell phones, computer displays, televisions, and even the basic compact fluorescent light bulb.

In addition, the official Xinhua News Agency reports that China will increase export duties on some rare earth elements next year.

Some Xinhua reports can be read in various languages at the Xinhuanet web site.

The U.S. and China began their yearly series of trade talks on December 14.

The following is quoted from the executive summary of the DoE report:

"Several clean energy technologies including wind turbines, electric vehicles, photovoltaic cells and fluorescent lighting-use materials at risk of supply disruptions in the short term. Those risks will generally decrease in the medium and long term.

Clean energy technologies currently constitute about 20 percent of global consumption of critical materials. As clean energy technologies are deployed more widely in the decades ahead, their share of global consumption of critical materials will likely grow.

Of the materials analyzed, five rare earth metals (dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium and yttrium), as well as indium, are assessed as most critical in the short term. For this purpose, "criticality" is a measure that combines importance to the clean energy economy and risk of supply disruption.

Sound policies and strategic investments can reduce the risk of supply disruptions, especially in the medium and long term. Data with respect to many of the issues considered in this report are sparse."

The report states that the DoE strategy has three main goals.

  • First, develop new sources.
  • Second, research and develop substitutes.
  • Third, put more effort into recycling rare earth elements.
  • John McCormick is a reporter, /science/medical columnist and finance and social commentator, with 17,000+ bylined stories. Contact John through NewsBlaze.

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