- How rare exactly are 'rare earth elements'? I'll use IUPAC's definition.
A rare-earth element (REE) [...] as defined by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, is one of a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanides, as well as scandium and yttrium.
- Does China uniquely possess some 'rare earth elements' that haven't been discovered elsewhere? Which?
Some Reddit comments avouch rare earth metals aren't rare, substantiated by 16 million tons of rare metals found under the Pacific Japan near Japan in Apr 2018.
Researchers have found hundreds of years’ worth of critical rare-earth metals beneath Japanese waters — enough to supply to the world on a “semi-infinite basis,” according to a study published on Tuesday.
The materials sit in a roughly 965-square-mile Pacific Ocean seabed near Minamitorishima Island, which is located 1,150 miles southeast of Tokyo, according to the study published in Nature Publishing Group’s Scientific Reports.
Rare-earth metals are crucial in the making of high-tech products such as electric vehicles, mobile phones and batteries, and the world has relied on China for almost all of its rare-earth material.
The seabed contains more than 16 million tons of rare-earth oxides, according to the study. That’s equivalent to 780 years’ worth of yttrium supply, 620 years of europium, 420 years of terbium and 730 years of dysprosium, it added.
The discovery “has the potential to supply these metals on a semi-infinite basis to the world,” the study said.
Semi-infinite doesn't say anything about the density, depth, size or difficulty to extract the minerals. The Earth contains a semi-infinite amount of Platinum too. But nobody says things like that.
REMs actually aren't that rare, despite their name. Japan recently found deposits that could basically supply Earth from now to infinity. The US has huge deposits as well.
Rare earth minerals aren't rare at all, they're all over the world, including the US and Canada. Many of the mines in the developed world were shut down because they're kind of an environmental nightmare war zone. Environmental regulations in the developed world make them more expensive to mine here, but China don't give a fuck. Check out this BBC report of giant toxic lakes in Mongolia.
There's two big misconceptions about rare-earth minerals and neither are true.
The first is that they're mostly found in China. Actually, there's significant deposits on every continent, and abundant stocks in sea floor muds. The second is that they're rare. Developing them can be costly and if we want more than one source, we're going to need to come up with some new processes, but it is and always has been a matter of impetus for making the investment, never a case that one world power would have the ability to choke off the supply to worldwide industry.
But other Reddit comments avouch that "you can only find heavy rare earth materials in China.
There is a large subsection of rare earth materials that are not found outside of China in any mining development.
There's I believe a list of 18 and Australia's Lynas only has about 5-6 iirc, and altogether the world can't cobble all 18 together without relying on China.
To get the entire Pokedex of materials would involve major greenfields mining operations. Plus rare earths are honestly not the most profitable enterprise in the first place, Lynas by and large survives due to very favourable Japanese loans and the incredibly unusual step of being acquired by Australia's Walmart equivalent in a deal that reeks of political involvment.