Stories

Another twist in the U.S.-China battle over rare earths

Fresh off President Xi Jinping's signal China could restrict the sale of rare earth minerals, a major component in a host of important technological and defense devices, to the U.S., a team of Chinese scientists announced they had developed a new process that reduces the time needed to extract rare earths from ore.

Why it matters: If the process is indeed viable, it would deepen the world's dependence on China for the valuable minerals and elements, locking in China's dominance in the field, at least in the short term.

  • They say the new discovery will move extraction from a process that takes days to a matter of minutes, and that it also could reduce environmental costs.
  • "This could start a technological evolution in the rare earths industry," said Sun Xiaoqi, lead scientist on the project, according to the South China Morning Post.
  • China accounts for 80% of the global supply of rare earths, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Of note: Last week I mentioned that Lynas Corp., one of the most important producers of rare earths outside of China, was eyeing a move to U.S. soil after a fight with the Malaysian government. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday the company's refinery would be allowed to continue operations.

Go deeper: Why rare earth minerals matter in the U.S.-China trade war