There is currently an increased focus on “so-called rare-earth minerals — elements that have wide commercial and military application … .
China … controls some 95 percent of the world’s supply
The elements known as rare earths number 17 in all and range from cerium and dysprosium to thulium and yttrium.
… [Rare-earth mineral] applications include magnets, lasers, fiber optics, computer disk drives, fluorescent lamps, rechargeable batteries, catalytic converters, computer memory chips, X-ray tubes, high-temperature superconductors and the liquid-crystal displays of televisions and computer monitors.
The United States Geological Survey calls the rare elements ‘essential for hundreds of applications’ and likely candidates in the near future for an ‘expanding array’ of high-tech products. Supply shortages that go on for a long time, the agency warns in a fact sheet, ‘would force significant changes in many technological aspects of American society.’
Despite their name, most rare earths are not particularly rare. But their geochemical properties mean they seldom concentrate into economically exploitable ore pockets. During the last two decades, most production has shifted to China because of lower costs there and the country’s record of lax regulation of environmental hazards. (The processing of rare earths can create toxic byproducts.)”
See article at: NYT 09Nov10: “Mining the Seafloor for Rare-Earth Minerals”