China has 53% of the world’s rare earth deposits, but it provides about 95% of the world’s supply. And it looks set to ration the amount exported.
In the last 10 years, a 40,000-ton per year global market for rare earth has grown to 125,000 tons per year. By 2014 demand is predicted to reach 200,000 tons per year.
In 1987, when rare earths started to be used in manufacturing computers and other electronic gadgets, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping said, "The Middle East has oil, but China has rare earth."
New uses for rare earth elements continue to emerge. The Tokyo Institute of Technology’s recent breakthrough in superconductivity uses rare metals that lower the friction on power lines, thus cutting electricity leakage.
Most of the world’s rare earth comes from a single mine in Baotou in China’s Inner Mongolia. Much of the rest comes from small, often unlicensed mines in southern China.
UPI reports that although the ore is evenly spread around the world, but readying a rare earth mine to Western environmental standards is expensive. China can extract the minerals for about a third of what it would cost in the West. Now China seems set to ration the amount exported.