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Open-File Report 2011–1042

China’s Rare-Earth Industry

By Pui-Kwan Tse

Introduction

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China’s dominant position as the producer of over 95 percent of the world output of rare-earth minerals and rapid increases in the consumption of rare earths owing to the emergence of new clean-energy and defense-related technologies, combined with China’s decisions to restrict exports of rare earths, have resulted in heightened concerns about the future availability of rare earths. As a result, industrial countries such as Japan, the United States, and countries of the European Union face tighter supplies and higher prices for rare earths. This paper briefly reviews China’s rare-earth production, consumption, and reserves and the important policies and regulations regarding the production and trade of rare earths, including recently announced export quotas.

The 15 lanthanide elements—lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium (atomic numbers 57–71)—were originally known as the rare earths from their occurrence in oxides mixtures. Recently, some researchers have included two other elements—scandium and yttrium—in their discussion of rare earths. Yttrium (atomic number 39), which lies above lanthanum in transition group III of the periodic table and has a similar 3+ ion with a noble gas core, has both atomic and ionic radii similar in size to those of terbium and dysprosium and is generally found in nature with lanthanides. Scandium (atomic number 21) has a smaller ionic radius than yttrium and the lanthanides, and its chemical behavior is intermediate between that of aluminum and the lanthanides. It is found in nature with the lanthanides and yttrium.

Rare earths are used widely in high-technology and clean-energy products because they impart special properties of magnetism, luminescence, and strength. Rare earths are also used in weapon systems to obtain the same properties.

First posted February 22, 2011

For additional information contact:
Pui-Kwan Tse, National Minerals Information Center
U.S. Geological Survey
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, MS 991
Reston, Virginia 20192-0002
http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/index.html

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Suggested citation:

Tse, Pui-Kwan, 2011, China’s rare-earth industry: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2011–1042, 11 p., available only at http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2011/1042.



Contents

Introduction

China’s Resources of Rare Earths

China’s Production of Rare Earths

China’s Consumption of Rare Earths

China’s Rare-Earth Policies

China’s Rare-Earth Trade

China’s Rare-Earth Development Plan

References Cited


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