Monday, August 31, 2009

All Mine

In a move to show China is really serious about hording as much natural resources as possible, a draft report from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MITT) calls for a total ban of exports of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needs.

China mines over 95 percent of the world's rare earth minerals, which are mostly found in Inner Mongolia.

All those mineral names sound like gobbledygook, but in fact are essential for today's technological gadgets.

For example, terbium, which sells for $80,000 a tonne, is used in low-energy light bulbs that cut power costs by 40 percent.

Neodymium is used to enhance the power of magnets at high heat and is essential for hard-disk drives, wind turbines and electric motors of hybrid cars. Each Toyota Prius uses 25 pounds of rare earth minerals. Europium is used in lasers.

And for those who use the all important Blackberries, iPods, mobile phones, palm TVs, and navigation systems might be interested to know their handy gadgets use bits of rare earth metals too, along with air defense missiles. These metals are also used to filter viruses and bacteria from water, and clean up Sarin gas.

If China's State Council does pass this draft into law, the rest of the world is at the Middle Kingdom's feet. Literally.

Japan is already freaking out. Before the just concluded election where the Democratic Party of Japan soundly lost to the Liberal Democratic Party, the then government already drew up a "Strategy for Ensuring Supplies of Rare Metals" to stockpile and 'secure overseas resources'.

In a way China's proposal sounds preposterous -- protectionism to the hilt -- but the country is serious about stockpiling resources it needs.

Does this have something to do with Rio Tinto?

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