Holding a Vital Key to Humanity’s Future

China controls the production to several vital, rare earth elements, and is the only country today that produces europium, dysprosium and terbium. Why are these rare elements important to humanity’s future?

Europium is a rare, critical chemical that makes the red color for television monitors and energy-efficient LED light bulbs, and lanthanum is a primary component of the nickel-metal hydride battery in Toyota’s popular hybrid car, Prius.

Toyota Prius

Deposits of these rare elements exist in other countries, but only China had the foresight, thanks to engineers, who are also among the rulers of China, that supported building the mining and refining industries capable of processing these materials. The leaders saw the future and acted.

If other countries like America do not support mining and refining these minerals soon, the supply may vanish since China is developing energy efficient industries and products that will stay in China.

One example is China’s wind production efforts to generate energy that could consume all the available neodymium production and leave nothing for the rest of the world’s booming wind industry.

Discover Greenpeace in China


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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5 Responses to Holding a Vital Key to Humanity’s Future

  1. Cheryl says:

    I’m not sure you can give China full credit for their “foresight” regarding the mining of vital rare earth metals. There’s the factor of China engaging in price dumping, too, which forced other mining operations to close. NPR did an interesting story on this topic back in May or June 2010, I think. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the link to the broadcast to include with this comment.

    The US understands the importance of these rare earth elements, but economics are economics – not to mention the environmental impact of extracting these elements – which I suspect China is probably more lax about.

    • You are correct. China had a huge low cost labor source (which may be changing) and there is the environmental impact that has polluted China’s rivers and air, but that may be changing too as China wakes up to what they are doing to their environment (and China is the world leader in solar and wind energy generation). In fact, China may not be the place to send these rare earth minerals since they need most of what they produce, which will force America and other nations to develop their own industries in this area.

      The US could have done the same thing China did–they could have subsidized these industries to level the playing field since these elements are so vital in our national defense. Washington DC allowed this to happen.

      And can we really blame China for the low costs there. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all did the same thing to jump start their economies and build their industries after World War II and the Korean War. Those wars ravaged Asia as much as Europe. After World War II, America was the only country that had an industrial base that had not been destroyed by war. For decades, the US auto industry dominated the world. Then as the world rebuilt its industrial base, VW from Germany along with Toyota and Honda in Japan cut into the US dominated world auto market and the competition lost jobs to the US. All of these companies manufactured their products at much lower costs than the US. That’s how they rebuilt their economies.

      It was a case of monkey see, monkey do. One US manufacture relocated to China and to stay in business the competition had to do the same thing just like so many US auto-manufacturing plants have relocated to Mexico.

      I read recently that Ford built its most modern automated manufacturing plant in South America because the labor costs and union problems are not as bad as in the US. Have you seen what a union autoworker in the US makes, and they don’t have to have to graduate from high school? In the US, garbage truck drivers and the people who clean out clogged sewers are paid more than PhD teaching in a university. I was a public school teacher for thirty years and the garbage truck drives are paid more and have better retirement benefits than I do.

      Demands from many American’s for high pay and benefits back in the 20th century for low-skill jobs was like shooting ourselves in the foot. Everyone wanted to live the American dream yet economics say it cannot be done. Everyone cannot live like kings forever.

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