Few people have heard of the term REE, Rare Earth Elements or REM, Rare Earth Minerals, even though they play a valuable role in our lives from a technological perspective. This is to say that without them, we cannot function as a modern society and that society as we know it will indeed collapse.
There are 17 rare-earth elements are cerium (Ce), dysprosium (Dy), erbium (Er), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), holmium (Ho), lanthanum (La), lutetium (Lu), neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), scandium (Sc), terbium (Tb), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), and yttrium (Y).
Rare earth metals are found in the crust and are crucial to keeping our society running smoothly–and to transitioning to a clean-tech-driven economy. So here are the early history folks as follows:
Until 1948, most of the world’s rare earth were sourced from placer sand deposits in India and Brazil. Through the 1950s, South Africa was, (yes, even South Africa), the world’s rare-earth source, from a monazite-rich reef at the Steenkamps Kraal in the Western Cape Province, through the 1960s. Until the 1980s, the Mountain Pass Rare Earth minerals in California made the United States the leading producer. Today, the Indian and South African deposits still produce some rare-earth concentrates, but they are dwarfed by the scale of Chinese production. In 2017, China produced 81% of the world’s rare-earth supply, mostly in Inner Mongolia, although it had only 36.7% of reserves. Australia was the second and only other major producer with 15% of world production. All of the world’s heavy rare earth (such as dysprosium) come from Chinese rare-earth sources such as the polymetallic Bayan Obo deposit. The Browns Range mine, located 160 km south-east of Halls Creek in northern Western Australia, is currently under development and is positioned to become the first significant dysprosium producer outside of China.
REE, Rare Earth Elements is increasing in demand since they are essential for new and innovative technology that is being created. These new products that need REEs to be produced are high technology equipment such as smartphones, digital cameras, computer parts, semiconductors, etc. Besides, these elements are more prevalent in the following industries: renewable energy technology, military equipment, glass making, metallurgy and countless other vital technologies.
These concerns have intensified due to the actions of China, the predominant supplier. Specifically, China has announced regulations on exports and a crackdown on smuggling. On September 1, 2009, China announced plans to reduce its export quota to 35,000 tons per year in 2010–2015 to conserve scarce resources and protect the environment. On October 19, 2010, China Daily, citing an unnamed Ministry of Commerce official, reported that China will “further reduce quotas for rare earth exports by 30 per cent at most next year to protect the precious metals from over-exploitation.”
The government in Beijing further increased its control by forcing smaller, independent miners to merge into state-owned corporations or face closure. At the end of 2010, China announced that the first round of export quotas in 2011 for rare earth would be 14,446 tons, which was a 35% decrease from the previous first round of quotas in 2010. China announced further export quotas on 14 July 2011 for the second half of the year with total allocation at 30,184 tons with total production capped at 93,800 tonnes in September 2011, China announced the halt in production of three of its eight major rare-earth mines, responsible for almost 40% of China’s total rare-earth production. In March 2012, the US, EU, and Japan confronted China at WTO about these export and production restrictions. China responded with claims that the restrictions had environmental protection in mind.
At this point, China controls roughly 90 to 95% of the global production, sales and distribution of REE’s. Two things remain difficult apropos starting up old mines and mineral deposits; the prohibitive costs and the Chinese strategy of dropping the global prices so low that it becomes unfeasible to invest capital in any REE deposit, old or new
This is part of the reason for Trump’s “trade war” with China. Doesn’t matter that the United States is historically guilty of the exact same practices which helped the Empire, but aggressively directs it as China and Russia today in respect of arms sales. If a non-aligned country wishes to purchase Chinese or Russian arms, the country in question is given a simple “choice” either support the American military, industrial complex or face U.S. sanctions. Strange how economists still persist in preaching the gospel of “free trade” and “open markets?”