WHAT ARE RARE EARTH MATERIALS?
Rare Earth materials, as their name implies, are found on Earth. They may not necessarily be rare, but they can be tough to harvest as they can be spread throughout the world’s crust.
This is a full list of rare earth materials, many of which are mined and sold in China.
- Scandium – used for aerospace components, and an additive in Mercury lamps
- Yttrium – used in TVs, high-temperature superconductors, and microwave filters
- Lanthanum used for battery-electrodes, camera lenses, and in the oil industry
- Cerium – used as polishing powder, yellow colors in glass and ceramics, self-cleaning ovens, and the flints in lighters
- Praseodymium – used for certain magnets, lasers, carbon arc lighting, and as a colorants in glasses and enamels
- Neodymium – used in magnets, lasers, violet colors in glass and ceramics, and ceramic capacitors
- Promethium – used in nuclear batteries
- Samarium – used in lasers, neutron capture
- Europium – used in lasers and mercury lamps
- Gadolinium – used in lasers, X-ray tubes, computer memories, neutron capture, and MRI machines
- Terbium – used in fluorescent lamps
- Dysprosium – used in magnets and lasers
- Holmium – used in lasers
- Erbium – used in lasers
- Thulium – used in some X-ray machines
- Ytterbium – used in infrared lasers and chemical research
- Lutetium – used in PET Scan detectors and high refractive index glass
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
These materials give China the strength to rule the 23% of global market of the earth’s rare matter, subsequently giving it the power of ruling almost 90% of the worlds’ gadgets and their components’ market, ruling the gangs of gadgets makers. From the cheapest Rs 1000 mobile phone to the various parts in our Nokias and Apples, from plastic toys to the toasters and ovens in our kitchens. You name it and China gives it you at a price you can’t resist. A relative of mine who recently set up his business in China told me this weekend how things work in the Kung-Fu land. You select the kind of television you want and the Chinese factory will produce 3 similar items of prices in increasing order and you select your price i.e the quality of product in other words! That is how China spins the globe on its fingertips. China’s richness in these rare matter gives it the edge against any other country.
However these rare materials are like any other gift from mother nature. If used judiciously, will last forever, but if exploited, then it will flow away like sand in palm. Unfortunately, the latter is happening. The government of China has recently published a stat showing that the total raw material extraction efficiency has fallen down significantly in the past decade, falling from 50% to 15%, far below even from the half mark. the global warming doesn’t seem to be limited only to drying up of water bodies, but also the natural resources. If the trends continue, the global market will not take too long to start looking for newer options or collapse if it fails to find alternatives, as China alone contributes to 90% market of the robot world.
Besides, the industry is also plagued by over-capacity in low-end product manufacturing and the fact that prices of rare earth products fail to reflect their value and scarcity despite a gradual rise since the second half of 2010, according to the white paper.
This is not a scare but a fair warning before the world comes to an end for all the gadget gurus! I mean, what if you stop getting all your iPad’s and Galxay’s and Surfaces!!
P.S. Microsoft Surface is out! Watch out for my review!
Comments are welcome!
- Challenge to China on rare earths (bbc.co.uk)
- Rare earth smuggling rampant in China (wantchinatimes.com)
- China: Nation has 23% of world’s ‘rare earth materials’ but supplies 90% of the market (dailymail.co.uk)
- China’s Rare Earth Warning (thediplomat.com)