A draft report by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needsReuters:
No replacement has been found for neodymium that enhances the power of magnets at high heat and is crucial for hard-disk drives, wind turbines, and the electric motors of hybrid cars. Each Toyota Prius uses 25 pounds of rare earth elements. Cerium and lanthanum are used in catalytic converters for diesel engines. Europium is used in lasers.
Blackberries, iPods, mobile phones, plams TVs, navigation systems, and air defence missiles all use a sprinkling of rare earth metals. They are used to filter viruses and bacteria from water, and cleaning up Sarin gas and VX nerve agents.
Concerns are mounting that Beijing could further restrict rare earth exports and even impose an outright ban on shipments of some key metals.
Here are few interesting facts about rare earth metals:
- China produces about 97 percent of world's rare earth metals.
- The country wants to use its resources mainly for its domestic consumption while getting global companies to set up high-tech operations in its regions such as Inner Mongolia.
- China regulates its exports with quotas and duties. Since 2004, exports from China have shrunk by about 10 percent each year. Analysts say the export quotas for this year could range between 32,000 tonnes to 34,000 tonnes.
- Demand for rare earth metals is likely to increase between 10 percent and 20 percent each year, on back of growing demand for metals such as neodymium, used to make hybrid electric vehicles and generators for wind turbines