China Threatens Green Revolution with Rare-Earth Export Cut

Rare Earth Metals

99% of Dysprosium was mined in China last year - Photo: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg via Getty Image

China controls 97% of the specially metals that are critical to green technology. An almost complete monopoly on terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, lutetium, and titanium; all rare-earth metals, all critical to latest in modern technology, and all primarily found in China.

Dysprosium, for one, is used to create laser materials. About 100 tones of dysprosium are produced worldwide each year, with 99% of that total produced in China.

Without a steady flow of these elements, much of the modern economy would shut down.

China has come to realize its unique advantage against the rest of the world. Rare-earth, or “Green Elements” prices have jumped as the Chinese have slowed exporting and decreased quotas. Cerium oxide prices have increased sevenfold in the last six months.

The line between simple trade and foreign policy has began almost completely erased by the world’s leading exporter. It seems China has realized it posses a unique leverage against many nations.

“The report is completely false,” the Chinese commerce ministry said in a statement.

“China will continue to supply rare earths to the world, and at the same time, to protect usable resources and sustainable development, China will also continue to impose restrictive measures on exploration, production and import and export of rare earths.”

Terbium, Dysprosium, Yttrium, Thulium, Lutetium, and Titanium

Terbium, Dysprosium, Yttrium, Thulium, Lutetium, and Titanium

However, when Japan detained a Chinese captain who had gone astray into Japanese waters, just last month, China blocked rare-earth shipments to Japan in the days immediately following.

These metals are used in everything from cell phones, catalytic convertors, computers and TV’s. Without a steady flow of these elements, much of the modern economy would shut down.

Over a third of rare earth sales where for magnets used in products such as computer hard-drives, hybrid vehicles and guided missiles. Another third went into the creation of energy-efficient lights.

One of the top buyers of rare earth metals is the United States, which mined exactly zero rare earth metals last year. One of the only rare-earth mines in the US was located in Mountain Pass, California, which shut down in 2002. Molycorp Inc, which owns the mine has promised to reopen it, and double the planned capacity to 40,000 metric tons a year, as an answer to progressively tighter squeezing from the Chinese.

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