Sept 24 Rare earth elements are used in a wide range of consumer products, from iPhones to electric car motors.
Rising tensions between China and Japan over an embargo on rare earth elements may spell good news for miners looking to fund projects outside of China.
Here are some facts on this elusive group of 17 metals:
WHAT ARE RARE EARTHS?
Lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium, scandium, yttrium.
WHAT ARE RARE EARTHS USED IN?
Rechargeable batteries for electric and hybrid cars, advanced ceramics, magnets for electric car motors, computers, DVD players, wind turbines, catalysts in cars and oil refineries, computer monitors, televisions, lighting, lasers, fiber optics, glass polishing, superconductors, and weapons.
THE iPHONE CONNECTION
Rare earths make for smaller, lighter batteries and motors. The drive to miniaturization was first popularized by the Sony Walkman personal cassette tape player. Rare earths are now key to making handheld devices like Apple's iPhone and Research In Motion's BlackBerry.
China uses 51 percent of the world's rare earths, while Japan uses 17 percent. Global demand is forecast to grow rapidly as demand for green products increases.
China produces over 90 percent of global supplies. China mined 120,000 tonnes in 2008. Molycorp in California produces 3,000 tonnes per year, while Silmet Rare Metals in Estonia produces 2,400 tonnes per year. There are small amounts of rare earths mined in India, Malaysia and Brazil.
The demand for dysprosium, terbium, neodymium, praseodymium and europium is set to grow by a minimum of 8 percent a year.
Electric vehicle demand for dysprosium, neodymium and praseodymium is set to grow by an average of 790 percent in the next five years.
MINES UNDER DEVELOPMENT, OUTSIDE CHINA
Great Western Minerals GWG.V, Steenkampskraal, South Africa
Avalon Rare Metals (AVL.TO), Nechalacho, Canada
Molycorp MCP.N, Mountain Pass, U.S.
Lynas Corp (LYC.AX), Mount Weld, Australia
Arafura Resources (ARU.AX), Nolans, Australia
Sources: U.S. Geological Survey, company web sites, Byron Capital Markets (Reporting by Julie Gordon; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman and Sonali Paul; Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait)