Rare Earths- Recycling the way ahead

(Submitted by Team-Member, Mikky.)

English: Periodic table of the elements: rare ...
Periodic table of the elements: rare earth elements.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some  metals are more necessary for our survival than the rest.  Bronze Ages ,Iron Ages , have all passed and now its the age of Rare Earths probably because our life is nullified without these metals’ existence. Rare earth elements are the  17 elements in the periodic table, mainly all the elements in the Lanthanide Series apart from Scandium and Yttrium. These elements are sought by all the manufacturers of electronic devices.The name suggests a serious fallacy, these elements aren’t really so rare though some of them are among the 17 elements. These rare earths contribute to the lot of devices we use today, devices that use magnets ( your sennheisers do use neodymium) , Windmills using europium, dysprosium, neodymium etc which is vital for the renewable energy sectors, iPhones using rare earth phosphors for the bright screens and the list is endless.

English: Rare earth minerals from Baotou, Geol...
Rare earth minerals from Baotou, Geology exhibition in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rare earths, that have become such a vital part of our life, like petroleum, are going the same way as the petroleum politico-economics. Like OPEC cartels petroleum, China cartels rare earths as it is the largest supplier of these elements in the world. No, the story wasn’t this earlier, until when China exploited its rare earth geomorpho-miracle in its Inner Mongolian strip and outpaced the production to foreign competitors. Chinese are the top exporter of rare earth elements at 97% of global exports because along with their government’s cooperation they were able to price the rare earths so low in the international market that no foreign competitor could stand against it. Through the dominance in exports, China earned the complete control over the pricing of rare earth elements. The production of these elements were so huge in China that erstwhile leaders like Brazil and South Africa were belittled in their production and  made their companies go out of business because they weren’t having the feasible price to compete against the Chinese.

 This history has again been tactically resorted to  another advancement by the Chinese: they suddenly stopped producing too much- so much that the demand exceeded the supply and the prices went haywire. This was also against the WTO  protocols. Although many countries preserve their resources, the Chinese went a little ahead strangulating the world’s supply chain and when the prices shoot up, probably then they want to enter into business again– which is any regular market behaviour by structures formally trying to monopolize the world trade.
Rare earth ore, shown with a United States pen...
Rare earth ore, shown with a United States penny for size comparison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
USA, E.U and Japan have pushed for a probe through the WTO , but that’s enough time for the prices to have any significant impact on the already stooping economic honour of the world though China argues that the reserves they possess is disproportionate to the exports they make.

Saviour’s name recycling ?

 The “honour” of the world can be saved by mass recycling of electronic devices which do contain “in life” rare earths in their manufacturing. You reading this and I writing this , we do know how much of e-waste is lying in our homes. The stop gap in the crunch can be filled in with our own hands working in divulging these wastes to our nearest e-waste processor. Recycling the e-wastes for their valuable elements promptly can give us back our supply to the demand we have created before the low supply contributes to the low demand that is already putting our recession to limp.
©The Idea Bucket, 2013.
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