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Published on December 15th, 2010 | by Zachary Shahan


U.S. Risks Running into Rare Earth Metal Supply Problems, China Controls 97% of Market

December 15th, 2010 by  

The United States may run into major supply disruptions of rare earth metals, metals which are used in many clean tech products (i.e. wind turbines, electric vehicles, and solar cells), unless it finds a way to diversify where it gets these minerals from, according to a report being released today by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Currently, China controls 97% of world trade in rare earth metals. Of course, the concern (which we’ve covered on here a few times) is that China could use its monopoly on rare earth metals to bully other countries on political or trade issues.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is releasing the report in coordination with a rare earth metals conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies today. Additionally, the report is coming out in the midst of broader China-U.S. trade negotiations.

“The release of the report coincides with trade talks in Washington between the United States and China,” Tom Doggett of Reuters reports. “U.S. officials are expected to push Chinese officials to loosen export restraints on rare earth elements.”

China recently cut exports of some rare earth metals. While it said it did so due to environmental concerns, many have conjectured that it was actually due to political reasons.

The report is urging further development of rare earth metal mining and production in the U.S., Europe, and Japan to diversify the supply side of this market.

While the clean tech sector is especially reliant on rare earth metals, the report also notes that traditional energy sources rely on some rare earth metals as well. So, basically, no matter where we are getting out energy from, getting more of our rare earth metals domestically or from other countries is going to be important to make sure we are not too vulnerable to China.

Read more about this topic on Reuters: U.S. at risk of rare earths supply disruptions

Photo Credit: Thorius 

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA] — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in this company and feels like it is a good cleantech company to invest in. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort on Tesla or any other company.

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