The rest of the world was asleep as China grew to become a goliath in the rare earth industry. It took the rest of the world 20 years to wake up to the realization that the future of high technology could be in the hands of this one supplier. While there may be ample rare earth elements in the earth’s crust, the challenge is in locating reserves worth mining and putting into place the infrastructure and processes necessary to mine and process them.
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China produces 96 percent of the world’s rare earth metals. Industrialized countries have realized that with a monopoly position, comes responsibility. China reduced its second-half rare earth metal export quota for the minerals by 72 percent in July 2010. It is now further restricting exports Repercussions and strategic implications are likely if rare earth elements supply were to be disrupted. .Actions by China have drawn criticism from U.S. lawmakers and officials in Japan and Germany.
After discovering a potential site and conducting a feasibility study, this type of mining operation requires permits, financing, building of infrastructure. Infrastructure includes roads, railways. The acquisition of mining technology, transportation for the materials, making mining machinery available, and processing of the raw materials is difficult.
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According to Susan Eustis, lead author of the study, “All of these steps to rebuild the industry outside China could take up to ten years. In the meantime, China has a huge lead in educating engineers and scientists and in all aspects of the rare earth metal industry. This is a topic that has been neglected in the US and the western world until now.” It has not been glamorous or interesting to professors, universities, and most of all students. It is set to become more significant in many countries.
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