America’s Unhealthy Dependence on China for Rare-Earth Metals

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Lanthanum. Neodymium. Yttrium. Not household names, especially compared to their precious metal cousins like gold or silver.

But don’t mistake their obscurity for lack of importance. They belong to the 17-member ”rare-earth elements” family. Among those elements, 16 of 17 are on the U.S. Geological Survey’s list of critical minerals – those deemed essential to economic and national security.

What makes these metals so important? They are necessary components in hundreds of products that are vital to our way of life – from smartphones to smart bombs, and plenty in between.

Rare-earth metals are critical to America’s renewable energy transition. A single wind turbine requires about a ton of four of them: neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium. And rare-earth magnets are widely seen as the best way to power the motors of electric vehicles.

Given their indispensable nature, having a reliable supply is, as the USGS’s list puts it, critical. That should be cause for concern. Roughly 97% of available rare earths are within the borders of one country: China.