Fact Sheet 2014–3078
Until recently, the rare-earth elements (REEs) were familiar to a relatively small number of people, such as chemists, geologists, specialized materials scientists, and engineers. In the 21st century, the REEs have gained visibility through many media outlets because of (1) the public has recognized the critical, specialized properties that REEs contribute to modern technology, as well as (2) China's dominance in production and supply of the REEs and (3) international dependence on China for the majority of the world's REE supply.
Since the late 1990s, China has provided 85–95 percent of the world’s REEs. In 2010, China announced their intention to reduce REE exports. During this timeframe, REE use increased substantially. REEs are used as components in high technology devices, including smart phones, digital cameras, computer hard disks, fluorescent and light-emitting-diode (LED) lights, flat screen televisions, computer monitors, and electronic displays. Large quantities of some REEs are used in clean energy and defense technologies. Because of the many important uses of REEs, nations dependent on new technologies, such as Japan, the United States, and members of the European Union, reacted with great concern to China’s intent to reduce its REE exports. Consequently, exploration activities intent on discovering economic deposits of REEs and bringing them into production have increased.
First posted November 5, 2014
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Van Gosen, B.S., Verplanck, P.L., Long, K.R., Gambogi, Joseph, and Seal, R.R., II, 2014, The rare-earth elements—Vital to modern technologies and lifestyles: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2014–3078, 4 p., https://dx.doi.org/10.3133/fs20143078.
ISSN 2327–6932 (online)