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WHERE ON EARTH?
CHINA'S MONOPOLY ON RARE EARTH ELEMENTS AND THE FUTURE GLOBAL SUPPLY
Up until the mid-1980s, the United States was the lead global producer of rare earth elements--materials that power everything from laptops to hybrid cars, and have come to define our high-tech lives. Now, the nation is 100% dependent on imports of these elements and China is the primary supplier. What does that domination resemble and how will it impact global supply?
WHAT ARE RARE EARTH ELEMENTS?
There are currently 17 rare earth elements (REE). Although relatively abundant, rare earth deposits take longer to find because they aren't as concentrated in areas as other elements. Additionally, the mining process for these materials is more extensive and costly than other elements.
RARE EARTH MATERIALS ARE VALUED FOR THEIR MAGNETIC PROPERTIES, LUMINESCENCE, AND STRENGTH IN MILITARY, MEDICAL, HIGH-TECH AND CLEAN-ENERGY SECTORS. COMMON APPLICATIONS INCLUDE:
HYBRID CAR BATTERIES
TOP SUPPLIERS IN THE WORLD: THEN AND NOW
- PRODUCTION IN METRIC TONS -
HISTORICAL AND PROJECTED GLOBAL PRODUCTION OF RARE EARTH ELEMENTS (1950-2014)
1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2014(Projected)
Together, just 4 countries mine the majority of the world's supply of rare earth elements. China, which produced 130,000 metric tons in 2010, dwarfs all other production yields by claiming 97% of the share.
SHARE OF GLOBAL RARE EARTH ELEMENT PRODUCTION
Other .31 %
The proliferation of high-tech and clean-energy products has boosted demand for more rare earth elements.
GLOBAL DEMAND IN 2010: 136,100 METRIC TONS
ESTIMATED GLOBAL DEMAND IN 2015: UP TO 210,000 METRIC TONS
However, China recently put a unilateral restriction on exports to preserve resources, causing prices to soar and heightening concern among dependent importers.
Thanks to the slow development of new mines and dwindling global reserves of rare earth elements, the U.S. Geological Survey predicts that we may soon be unable to meet future demand in the high-tech and clean-energy sectors.