Cadena SER interviewed CETIM researcher Cristina Martínez, head of ECO BIO Technologies of the Center, to shed light on rare earths and their strategic importance.
Their importance lies in the fact that they are the source of essential raw materials for electronics used in smartphones, wind turbines or medical equipment.
Just days after the Donald Trump administration included Huawei on its commercial blacklist, a move that involves the immediate imposition of restrictions that will make it difficult for the technology giant to do business with US companies, its Chinese counterpart Xi Xinping visited a factory that processes rare minerals in the southeast of the country.
What are the rare earths?
They are a group of 17 elements of the periodic table that have unique magnetic, luminescent and electrochemical properties. Some properties that make them vital for the development of current technology. These elements are divided into two groups: light lands and the heavy lands. And, thanks to them, the industry creates the technology with which we are in contact every day. From catalysts and rare earth magnets to accessories associated with hybrid and electric vehicles, wind turbines, batteries, consumer electronics such as computers and networks, fiberglass for communications, military applications and medical care. Come on, they are fundamental today.
China, first world producer
Today, China is the world’s leading producer of rare earths and refined rare earth compounds with 86% of global production in 2017. But not only that. The Asian country controls 95% of the world supply of these elements through integrated chains of mining, refining and supplies. Due to this, China dominates the market and the countries have a strong dependence on this country to obtain rare earths. From the European Union to the United States. For that same reason, if China decided to paralyze the export of rare earths, many countries would be forced to look for new routes of supply of rare earths.