China, the source of high-tech products – for now

July 31, 2011

The June 2011 National Geographic Magazine (NGM) is sitting on my desk reminding me to write a post about THE SECRET (Chinese) INGREDIENTS OF (almost) EVERYTHING.

In fact, today, China supplies 97% of the world’s rare earth needs.

NGM’s Folger tells us, “Although China currently monopolizes rare earth mining, other countries have deposits too. China has 48 percent of the world’s reserves; the United States has 13 percent. Russia, Australia, and Canada have substantial deposits as well. Until the 1980s, the United States led the world in rare earth production …” Then China entered the competition and soon dominated the global market.

How important are these rare earth minerals to our modern high-tech world?

The U.S. military depends on these minerals for night vision goggles used in combat, and to help control Predator drones, and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

MRI medical scans need a rare earth mineral to work while hybrid cars would not exist without them and wind turbines used to generate an alternative source of energy requires hundreds of pounds of one rare earth element while compact fluorescent light bulbs use another rare earth to light up.  Even our smart phones, flat-screen televisions and sunglasses (to protect our eyes from UV light) use rare earths.

Folger reveals that there is currently a shortage of rare earths with global demand about 60,000 tons. However, China will only be exporting 24,000 tons this year, since its growing middle class demands the same high-tech toys that many Americans and Europeans take for granted.

To have a better idea of how this demand of rare earths will grow in China, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts China’s middle class will reach about 612 million Chinese by 2025 to become the world’s largest population of consumers. This will change ‘made in China‘ to ‘sold in China‘ possibly creating markets for luxury goods made in the USA.

Does this mean that soon Chinese may be complaining about US workers stealing jobs from China?

Meanwhile, other nations (such as the US) are rushing to develop rare earth metals until the US is capable of producing enough to supply the demand in America for high-tech gadgets.

Discover more from Keeping the Rare Earths in China

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story that Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Keeping the Rare Earths in China

October 1, 2010

At one time, it must have seemed like a good idea to allow China to process 90% of the earth’s supply for rare earth oxides/metals.

After all, rare earths are dangerous and costly to extract and the extraction methods used in China are highly toxic. The Economist reports that there have been horror stories about poisoned water supplies.

The thinking around the world must have been, “Better that China wrecks its environment than us.”


The Other Side of the Story

These rare earth-based metals are important in manufacturing sophisticated products such as flat-screen monitors, hybrid and electric-car batteries, wind turbines, aerospace alloys and high-tech weapons, which the U.S. needs to fight wars.

Then China became angry when Japan arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain whose trawler collided with a Japanese patrol boat in contested waters.

What China did to force the Japanese to do what China wanted caused the rest of the world to sit up.

China shut off the supply of rare earths to Japan.

A report from Reuters by Julie Gordon says this caused companies that depend on rare earths to struggle to secure a supply. It also woke up the rest of the world—a lesson learned that you don’t keep all the eggs in a basket that you don’t own.

See Hitting Endless Home Runs

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions