Rare Earths- Seeds of Technology
They are called ‘the seeds of technology’ , by the Japanese and The US Department of Energy calls them ‘Technology Metals’. Rare earth elements are a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium. Scandium and yttrium are considered rare earth elements since they tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides and exhibit similar chemical properties.
The high-tech world we enjoy today is made possible by the Rare Earth elements. Everything, from the miniaturization of electronics, to the enabling of green energy and medical technologies, to supporting essential telecommunications and defense systems. They are the elements that have become irreplaceable to our world of technology owing to their unique magnetic, phosphorescent, and catalytic properties.
While named rare earths, they are in fact not very rare, rather, they are relatively abundant in the Earth’s crust. However, the challenge is to find them in quantities significant enough to support economic mineral development.
China became the world’s dominant producer of rare earths in the 1990s as well the dominant consumer of rare earths, which were used mainly to manufacture electronics products for domestic use as well as export. Japan and the United States are the world’s second and third largest consumers of rare earths. Owing to the low prices at which China sold rare earths, mines like Molycorp’s Mountain Pass in California and others throughout the world were unable to compete. By 2000, China accounted for more than 95% of world rare earth production.
However, in 2010 and 2011, Chinese exports of rare earths fell, driven predominately by increasing domestic consumption. China also announced they may require imports by 2014 of certain rare earths, some that are deemed critical by the U.S. Department of Energy..
The long lead time between discovery and production means there is no quick way to increase supply in the rare earth market. End-users are at a significant disadvantage by only having one major supplier. (Other sources are being developed, including the Bear Lodge Project, but none are currently in full production or can provide a full suite of all the rare earth elements.) These factors have resulted in a great deal of uncertainty in the market place and significant price volatility.
COVID-19 impact has negatively affected most of the manufacturing sectors in the market. The consumer electronics industry is one of the industries affected negatively due to the COVID-19 impact. However, there is a huge demand for consumer electronics due to the need for communication because of the lockdown and social distancing. Shut down of manufacturing plants and intermittent closure of physical stores in most parts of the world have created disturbances in the supply of consumer electronics.
The Asia-Pacific dominates the global market, owing to the increasing production of rare earth metals and rising demand from industries, such as consumer electronics, etc.