REE Shortage Made Worse by Smuggling


"As much as 20,000 tons of REEs were smuggled out of China."

China controls some 97% of the world's supply of REEs and, in 2012, Chinese domestic consumption of REEs is forecast to match domestic production. This year will see a peak in availability and a demand/supply gap emerging on the world markets.

REEs are not lacking in the earth's crust; for example, cerium ranks as the 25th most abundant element at 68 parts per million, in fact similar to copper. There are, however, few economically concentrated ores of the metals and their very similar chemical properties make the separation and isolation of individual REEs in pure form difficult and expensive.

While China attempts to secure its dominance of the world markets for these metals, the scarcity of REEs is compounded by smuggling. As much as 20,000 tons or one-third of total exports of REEs were smuggled out of China, which both reduces the price of the metals and ensures the more voracious depletion of the resource.

In my previous article, I wrote about the British focus on wind-power to meet its renewable energy targets for the European Union, by 2020. I commented that the rate of progress in building the required more than 4,000 new wind turbines had been rather slow to date, and now it appears debatable that there will be sufficient neodymium with which to fabricate the magnets for them, even if the manufacturing could be sped up.

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