How come China controls majority of the global rare earths market? (87% according to IEA)


Not sure if there is an updated number, but clearly this has some geopolitical implications if many countries are relying on these to make wind turbines and electric vehicles. How come other rich countries can’t match it?

In: 8

rare earths are not particularly rare but they are mixed with all kinds of other stuff, some of it radioactive. Separating them out is a dirty and toxic process, so few can compete with Chinas lax environmental standards. And suspect that mines that were closed, because they weren’t profitable, will be hard hard to get permits to reopen if someone wanted to

Rare earth elements are present in some types of regular normal rock. Some rock has higher concentrations than others, but it’s not like it’s super ultra rare.

The problem is, to get the rare earth elements out of the regular normal rock, you have to separate it out somehow. Usually this is done with a bunch of nasty chemicals. You mine the rock, grind it up, and then pour in tons of different acids and other yucky stuff. Those chemicals dissolve a lot of the rock, and bind with it, and then you drain it off. This leaves you with the rare earth elements that you want.

But now you’ve got all this extra crap. What do you do with all these used up acids and chemicals? Disposal of that sort of thing is very expensive. China just says “screw it” and they dump it out on the ground. In Western countries we have a bunch of laws that we can’t do that, so producing that stuff over here would be way, way more expensive.

Because California, for example, is too prissy to dirty their own soil mining any of their mineral deposits. They (we) would rather pretend to moral superiority while buying from environmental terrorist states like PRC.

It was a political move by China. The Chinese govt purposefully dumped prices into the ground to control the market, and continues to do so. It was purely a political strategy, in order to diminish the ability of western nations to source their own rare earth elements. The US and others have long identified this as a major political move, disguised as an economic one. Rare earth elements aren’t the only commodities affected by dumping, its a thing that happens in the world market. However, China, correctly identified they could jump into the supply chain for many advanced products, by controlling this market and getting others out of it, no matter the cost (loss) of operations, it was more important to be in control than to make money

The US and to a lesser degree others, used to mine a lot of rare earth elements, but got undercut in pricing and many mines and facilities shut down by mid-2010s. However for several years, companies have been trying to restart them, albeit with little success as the US govt hasn’t stepped in too much to help them on being undercut. There’s a legitimate near future where the US extremely heavily subsidizes the last remaining US miner and processer, called MP Materials, located in California/Nevada, and lots of people have been discussing that for years, or if the US govt just simply takes it over in some manner

There are 2 big reasons.

1. Rare earth mining and refining is toxic as hell. Rare earth minerals are everywhere. They’re actually more common than a lot of other metals we use everyday like copper. It’s just that they don’t occur in concentrated ores. Rather, they tend to be found in small amounts in a lot of rocks alongside a lot of toxic or radioactive elements like thorium. It’s expensive as hell to treat the waste so that it’s “safe” and Western countries like the US have environmental regulations in place to make sure that it’s properly mitigated. China does not have these regulations (or if they do, they are not enforced) and the mining operations they have are an ecological disaster.

2. The CCP has engaged in market manipulation to control rare earth mining/refining. A few years ago a US company tried to restart a rare earth operation in the Western parts of the country (California if I remember right). The CCP proceeded to crash prices by flooding the market. This forced the mining operation to shut down because they could not operate with a profit when prices crashed. This is classic monopolistic behavior.