China Hoarding Rare Earth Metals
The move could influence global prices, supply
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 7, 2011 3:41 PM CST
Bulldozers scoop soil containing various rare earth to be loaded on to a ship at a port in Lianyungang, east China's Jiangsu province on September 5, 2010, for export to Japan.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – In a move that could increase its power over global prices, China is stockpiling rare earth metals—a sector the nation already dominates. China exported 39,813 metric tons of the metals last year, and local reports claim that storage facilities built recently can hold more than that, the Wall Street Journal reports. The 17 elements are used for such high-tech applications as weaponry, cell phones, and hybrid car batteries, and China—which has been tightening its hold on the elements—already controls more than 90% of the global supply.

Even so, many of the minerals aren’t actually rare, and although China is estimated to have about half of the world’s supply of rare earth deposits, it does not have a monopoly on deposits of any particular element. In response to this move by Beijing, mining companies worldwide are attempting to increase production, but processing of the elements is expected to stay concentrated in China as new mines are developed. Japan and South Korea have also gathered some reserves, and US analysts want to do the same.