Although China extracts 98 percent of the world’s rare earth elements, like Neodymium, which in small amounts together with some Boratoms to keep everything in place are used to “dope” magnetic iron so that they become stronger (Neodymium magnets) and other elements that have recently been used in high-tech contexts, it’s difficult for them to use the ore as an economic weapon.
There are also much China is dependent on which comes from the surrounding world, like agricultural products and fuel oil, as well as copper and other metals. China alone stands for 2/5 of the worlds consumption of coal, aluminum, zinc and copper. Therefore, the Chinese are doing mining and oil business with countries that Europe and America consider too dubious to do business with, African countries with a horribly low level on human rights, that China benefits from. China is a relatively resonable trading partner for western countries. As of 2015, the only mining company of its kind in the United States – Molycorp – which used to capitalize rare earth elements, filed for bankruptcy due to unfavorable Chinese competition.
The problem is that REE (rare earth elements) is so difficult to extract from the soil. In May 2012, Japanese researchers discovered an estimated 6.8 million tonnes of rare earth metals near the island of Minami-Tori-Shima, which can supply Japan’s current industrial consumption for over 200 years.
Another recently developed source of rare earths is discarded electronics and other scrap that have components of REE. Progress in recycling of electronics has made the extraction of REE from junk possible and recycling stations have recovered hundreds of thousand tonnes of REE from electronic junk. In France, two factories have been built that will recycle 200 tonnes of REE per year from end-of-life fluorescent lamps, magnets and batteries.
China has no real market advantage despite their introducing of restrictive export quotas from 2010 and also their stopping of production, and despite their extraction of REE in China linked to the Chinese state. In March 2012, the United States, the EU and Japan confronted China in the WTO. China claimed that the export quotas were maintained for the sake of the environment. (Well, sometime would be the first.) Chinese export restrictions failed in 2012 since prices on REE fell in response to the opening of other production sites. [In January 2015, China lifted all export quotas of REE, but export licenses will still be required. It is unclear if they thought they were the only ones who had raw materials in sufficient quantities, but the Chinese had misjudged the power of the free market and for the moment being they have already used up their advantage.
In 2013, Rand Corporation published a report that stated that the US economy is “critically dependent” on 14 different raw materials produced in countries with weak regimes and that China has a market-controlling position on 11 of these raw materials. China has introduced production monitoring, export restraints, closing of mines and restructuring of production within China’s own borders. In the same year, the United States’ Energy Department announced that they had created a new institute with an annual budget of $ 120 million called the Critical Materials Institute. The aim is to avoid the consequences of scarcity of raw materials, which threaten to put obstacles in the way of transition to alternative energy forms. Five so-called rare earth metals (neodymium, europium, terbium, dysprosium and yttrium) are listed on the institute’s website as such critical raw materials. Two non REE raw materials are also included in this category. Calculations showed that there would be an imbalance of about thirty percent between supply and demand already in 2016. This primarily affects electricity production by wind and solar power. A major problem is that there is no acceptable alternative to oil for propulsion of vehicles and aircraft. There is no other substance with that much energy content per transported unit than oil products and which does not cost astronomical sums to produce with now known technology. Without transport, we would return to the stoneage. Every country needs to look out for its supply of crude oil to meet both civil society’s need for fuel in peacetime and sustain its military in the event of conflict. Source: KKrVA, Ingolf Kiesow
Source; KKrVA, Ingolf Kiesow
Will REE become a big issue in the future you think? Short term or long term?
Roger M. Klang, defense political Spokesman for the Christian Values Party (Kristna Värdepartiet) in Sweden