A draft report recently made public by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) indicated that the Chinese government was considering a ban on the export of yttrium, terbium and dysprosium, a small furor arose. The press generally reported that when it comes to these exotic metals, China is essentially the world’s lone supplier. Which is simply not the case.
What is true that the cost from China was low enough for prospecting and mining of such rare metals to be made non-profitable in other countries. But the rare-earth minerals are still there. They can still be mined. They will just cost more.
Rare-earth prospectors in the rest of the world, including several in Canada, see China’s monopoly as an opportunity to step in and fill the breach. In fact, the stress may not be so much as prospecting for the stuff as re-opening mines which were closed because of a loss of profitability.
Rare-earth metals are a group of 17 elements clustered together at the bottom of the periodic table. Despite their name, most are actually found in relatively high concentrations within the earth’s crust.
Economically minable deposits are few but it all depends on what you mean by "economically minable". Compared to China prices, most of them are not in the race. But if China closes off the supply then these, mines become viable again.
Most of these rare earth metals are used in electronics.
There are at least a few observers beyond the MIIT who say the latest hysteria is unfounded. Rare-earth miners in other countries stoked the controversy.
The great unanswered question that may determine their fate is how much of a premium rare-earth users are prepared to pay to secure non-Chinese supply. And that may not have anything to do with a ban. China is is consuming more and more of these materials internally.
Canadian Business reports one commentator as saying to assume China’s continued dominance would be to underestimate the prospecting abilities of Canadians, Australians and others.