These hard-to-find elements used in everything from smart phones to fighter jets could be all the leverage China needs in Trump’s trade war


Molten rare-earth metal Lanthanum is poured into a mould at Jinyuan Company’s smelting workshop near the town of Damao in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, October 31, 2010. – Kim loại đất hiếm lanthanum nóng chảy được đổ vào khuôn tại xưởng luyện kim của Công ty Jinyuan gần thị trấn Damao thuộc Khu tự trị Nội Mông của Trung Quốc, ngày 31 tháng 10 năm 2010.


[Reading level: C2 – Mastery]

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Rare earth elements are used in a wide range of consumer products, from iPhones to electric car motors, as well as military jet engines, satellites and lasers.


Rising tensions between the US and China have sparked concerns that Beijing could use its dominant position as a supplier of rare earths for leverage in the trade war between the two global economic powers.


What are rare earths used in? – Đất hiếm được dùng làm gì?

Samples of rare earth minerals, from left, Cerium oxide, Bastnasite, Neodymium oxide and Lanthanum carbonate, on display during a tour of Molycorp’s Mountain Pass Rare Earth facility in Mountain Pass, California, June 29, 2015. – Các mẫu khoáng vật đất hiếm, từ trái, Cerium oxide, Bastnasite, Neodymium oxide và Lanthanum carbonate, được trưng bày trong chuyến tham quan cơ sở đất hiếm Mountain Pass của Molycorp ở Mountain Pass, California, ngày 29 tháng 6 năm 2015.

Rare earths are used in rechargeable batteries for electric and hybrid cars, advanced ceramics, computers, DVD players, wind turbines, catalysts in cars and oil refineries, monitors, televisions, lighting, lasers, fiber optics, superconductors and glass polishing.


Several rare earth elements, such as neodymium and dysprosium, are critical to the motors used in electric vehicles.


Rare earths in military equipment – Đất hiếm trong các thiết bị quân sự

Rare earths, clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium and gadolinium. – Đất hiếm, theo chiều kim đồng hồ từ trên cùng: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium và gadolinium.

Some rare earth minerals are essential in military equipment such as jet engines, missile guidance systems, antimissile defense systems, satellites, as well as in lasers.


Lanthanum, for example, is needed to manufacture night vision devices.


The US Defense Department accounts for about 1% of US demand, which in turn accounts for about 9% of global demand for rare earths, according to a 2016 report from the congressional US Government Accountability Office.


Which companies are most dependent on Chinese supplies? – Những công ty nào phụ thuộc nhiều nhất vào nguồn cung của Trung Quốc?

Companies such as Raytheon Co, Lockheed Martin Corp and BAE Systems Plc all make sophisticated missiles that use rare earths metals in their guidance systems, and sensors. Lockheed and BAE declined to comment. Raytheon did not respond to a request for comment.


Apple Inc uses rare earth elements in speakers, cameras and the so-called “haptic” engines that make its phones vibrate. The company says the elements are not available from traditional recyclers because they are used in such small amounts they cannot be recovered.


Since 2010, the government and private industry have built up stockpiles of rare earths and components that use them, according to Eugene Gholz, a former senior Pentagon supply chain expert, who teaches at the University of Notre Dame.


Some suppliers have scaled back their use of such elements, he said.


What are rare earths and where do they occur? – Đất hiếm là gì và chúng có ở đâu?

Chinese President Xi Jinping at the JL MAG Rare-Earth Co. Ltd. in Ganzhou city, eastern China, May 20, 2019. – Chủ tịch Trung Quốc Tập Cận Bình tại Công ty TNHH Đất hiếm JL MAG ở thành phố Quảng Châu, miền đông Trung Quốc, ngày 20 tháng 5 năm 2019.

Rare earth metals are a group of 17 elements — lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium, scandium, yttrium – that appear in low concentrations in the ground.


Although they are more abundant than their name implies, they are difficult and costly to mine and process cleanly. China hosts most of the world’s processing capacity and supplied 80% of the rare earths imported by the US from 2014 to 2017.


In 2017, China accounted for 81% of the world’s rare earth production, data from the US Geological Survey showed.


Importers made limited efforts to reduce rare earth consumption and dependence on China after a diplomatic dispute between China and Japan in 2010. Japan accused China of halting rare earth supplies for political reasons, sparking recognition worldwide of the risks of dependence on one supplier. China denied it had halted supplies.


Few alternative suppliers were able to compete with China, which is home to 37% of global rare earths reserves.


California’s Mountain Pass mine is the only operating US rare earths facility. But MP Materials, owner of Mountain Pass, ships the roughly 50,000 tonnes of rare earth concentrate it extracts each year from California to China for processing. China has imposed a tariff of 25% on those imports during the trade war.


Australia’s Lynas Corporation Ltd this week said it signed a memorandum of understanding with Texas-based Blue Line Corp to build a rare earth processing facility in the US.


Rare earths are also mined in India, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Estonia, Malaysia and Brazil.


How are rare earths affected by US tariffs? – Đất hiếm bị ảnh hưởng như thế nào bởi thuế quan của Mỹ?

So far, the US government has exempted rare earths from tariffs on Chinese goods.


Opitons to reduce reliance on Chinese imports – Các lựa chọn để giảm sự phụ thuộc vào hàng nhập khẩu của Trung Quốc

US senators introduced legislation in May to encourage development of domestic supplies. Recycling has also emerged as a potential source for rare earth minerals.


Nebraska-based Rare Earth Salts is taking old fluorescent light tubes and recycling them for their rare earth elements, which comprise about 20% of the bulb, according to the Association of Lamp and Mercury Recyclers.






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