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Rare Earth Metals UPSC NOTE

 Why in news

  • China, the world’s top processor of rare earths.

  • China banned the export of technology to extract and separate the strategic metals.

  • Rare earth metals overhauled a list of technologies deemed key to national security.

  • They are a group of 17 chemical elements that are found together in the periodic table.

  • They are called "rare" because they are not actually rare in the Earth's crust.

  • But they are difficult to extract and separate from each other.

  • Rare earth metals are used in a wide variety of products, including magnets, batteries, electronics, and catalysts.

  • They are becoming increasingly important as the world transitions to a more sustainable economy, as they are used in many green technologies.

Here are some of the most common rare earth metals:

  1. Cerium (Ce)

  2. Lanthanum (La)

  3. Neodymium (Nd)

  4. Praseodymium (Pr)

  5. Samarium (Sm)

  6. Yttrium (Y)

How China Monopolised Rare Earths?

  • While it's accurate to say China holds a dominant position in the global rare earth market.

  •  China claiming a monopoly might be an oversimplification

Factors contributing to China's prominence:

  • Early investment: China began investing heavily in rare earth mining and processing in the 1980s, while other countries were phasing out production due to environmental concerns and high costs.

  • Lower costs: China benefited from cheap labor, lax environmental regulations, and government subsidies, lowering production costs and undercutting competitors.

  • Vertical integration: China controls the entire rare earth supply chain, from mining and processing to refining and manufacturing, giving them substantial control over prices and production.

  • Export restrictions: In the past, China has strategically placed temporary quotas on rare earth exports, causing price hikes and forcing other countries to rely on its supply.

Challenges to China's dominance:

  • Environmental concerns: China's lax environmental regulations surrounding rare earth extraction have spurred international criticism and domestic environmental issues

  • Technological advancements: Other countries are investing in research and development to find alternative sources and more efficient extraction methods, potentially reducing dependence on China.

  • Geopolitical tensions: Trade tensions and political disputes between China and other countries could lead to disruptions in the supply chain and encourage efforts to diversify sources.


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