From a mobile phone to a wind turbine, just about every device that has become indispensible in our lives has a few not so well known ingredients – Europium, Neodimium or other such rare earth metals. Despite the lack of awareness among people as to these metals, these metals are nothing short of vital for the electronics industry. Control over supply of these rare earth metals can control manufacturing in the consumer electronics industry. Perhaps even more important are our energy sources that keep these electronics running. The clean energy technologies – that are believed to be the primary source in the future – again require these rare earth metals. With this in mind, here’s a little look on what these rare earth metals are and their availability.
What are rare earth metals?
Rare earth metals are a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table – the fifteen lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium. Contrary to their name, these metals found in the earth’s crust are not rare in occurrence. However, these metals are diversified and do not often occur in concentrated deposits for their mining to be economically viable. This relative scarcity of these minerals for mining is what gives them their name.
Impact on consumer electronics
Several of these rare earth metals are required in the manufacturing of different electronic products. For instance, europium is used to make TV screens and neodymium is required to manufacture the magnets used in hard drives.
The significance of these metals for the industry is clear – China, the largest producer of these metals, which produces over 95% of the world supply, largely controls the electronics industry. Manufacturers in other countries often have to pay higher than their Chinese counterparts due to its high price in the international market determined by the Chinese export policy. This being a barrier to the manufacturing of electronics outside of China, has helped keep Chinese more or less in control of the electronics industry.
Rare earth mining in India
With China restricting exports of these metals through export taxes and quotas, India has looked to increase its production of these rare earth metals. But China’s decision to reduce their exports also offers an opportunity to India, currently the second largest producer, to fill in the void left by the drop in China’s exports.
This also provides Indian manufacturers with an opportunity to compete in the International market. Hopefully, it may not be long before we see gadgets manufactured in India, being sold worldwide. That would mark a remarkable progress in an industry now almost monopolized by the Chinese.