Rare earths have become increasingly important in manufacturing sophisticated products including flat-screen monitors, electric-car batteries, wind turbines and aerospace alloys. Over the summer prices for cerium (used in glass), lanthanum (petrol refining), yttrium (displays) and a bunch of other –iums have zoomed upward (see chart) as China, which accounts for almost all of the world’s production, squeezes supply. In July it announced the latest in a series of annual export reductions, this time by 40% to precisely 30,258 tonnes. That is 15,000-20,000 tonnes less than consumption by non-Chinese producers...
China has cited “environmental” concerns as the reason for the export quotas. That is less implausible than it sounds. Rare earths are dangerous and costly to extract responsibly... High prices have already begun to propel a supply response elsewhere in the world.
15 September 2010
Rare earths are becoming very expensive