The world shouldn’t take China’s rare earth supply for granted, according to a new Bloomberg story. The ministry of commerce of the Asian nation that, effectively, controls much of the market for rare earths, says its medium and heavy rare earths reserves may only last 15–20 years at the current rate of production.

While much of the rest of the world that is poor in rare earths, including the United States, shuddered when China recently announced that it would be cutting back on certain rare earths exports, it is especially disconcerting that China, itself, may soon be requiring imports.

Rare earths are an increasingly important component of advanced ceramic and glass applications. These elements aren’t really rare, but generally do not exist in “veins” and other concentrated forms like other valuable minerals and elements. Separating rare earths from other elements and minerals is difficult and expensive, so even low level of concentrates of rare earths ores represent enormously strategic natural resources.

The Bloomberg article claims that China currently controls “more than 90 percent of production of the materials used in cell phones and radar.”

“We cannot rule out the possibility that China may need to rely on imports sometime in the future for these minerals, instead of supplying the world,” says Chao Ning, section chief of foreign trade at the ministry, in the Bloomberg story.

For more stories on rare earths, see:

Bad news for advanced ceramic & glass world: China enforcing new rare earths export restrictions

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