Does it scare you to know that China holds the key to cripple global manufacturing sectors?
The problem is related to China’s complete monopoly of the rare earth materials market, of which it controls 95%, and also the vital importance that rare earth elements play in the manufacturing of most modern day products.
PopSci wrote a nice paragraph describing rare earth materials and highlighting their importance in the modern world. “Rare earths are a collection of 17 elements that are valued for their unique properties. They are used in the production of everything from computer hard drives and smartphones to wind turbines, batteries, and precision weapons systems. They are found in computer displays and light bulbs and communications infrastructure. We use them to refine oil and build cars.”
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It is fair to say that we need rare earths, in fact without them modern society would not function; so it is strategically unwise to allow one country to control the global supply. China has previously restricted its exports of rare earth metals, and has threatened to cut them off before.
The US Department of Energy has decided that it will fight China’s dominance by awarding $120 million to Ames Laboratory to create a new Critical Materials Institute (CMI) laboratory. The CMI lab will pool the resources of a dozen national laboratories, universities, and industry partners to try and find a way to reduce dependence on China’s exports.
The CMI will attempt to achieve this by following three different approaches.
1. It will try to increase domestic production of rare earth elements in the US.
2. It will research potential substitutes for rare earths.
3. It will encourage the reuse and recycling of rare earth elements that are often thrown away once the products they were used in are no longer wanted.
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com