Rare earth metals, ironically named as the metals are actually quite abundant, are becoming increasingly used in a large variety of new technologies: hybrid vehicles, televisions, iPods, magnets, etc. There was quite a hullabaloo in the media last year (see here, here, and here) when China first announced that future supplies would be limited, as China has been responsible for well over 90% of the supply in recent years. Unlike the United States, China is capable of restricting imports and exports of raw materials quite easily, which is why they have repeatedly warned the world that future supplies of rare earth metals will be limited as they focus on domestic production. Note that this is not a good thing — free market economies are all much more vibrant than those that rely so heavily on top down control.
Thankfully, China’s rare earth dominance won’t last forever. Even 10 years ago, rare earths weren’t used nearly as often in industry and as a result there was little incentive for production. The United States has an ample supply of most domestic rare earth metals, though the only rare earth mine in America closed down in 2002 due to abundantly low-priced Chinese supply and environmental issues. It looks as if it will re-open for mining and production. Similar efforts are underway in other parts of the world.
Visit American Resources to read more, especially the regulatory barriers to increased domestic production, and check out the graphic below:
(click to enlarge)