Many of the digital and "green" technologies that we now take for granted contain certain metals which previously have been of little interest. Consequently, production of these rare earth elements (REEs) is concentrated in a small handful of countries, leaving the global supply at considerable risk.
Just how high is the risk?
A new assessment from the British Geological Survey (BSG) gives us some insight.
BSG's new Risk List' ranks the risk to global supply of 52 chemical elements of economic value. BSG estimated supply risk using the abundance, production and reserves of the element and governance factors for the producing countries and found that:
Critical metals such as tungsten, niobium, rare earths and platinum group elements have the highest supply risk.
Industrial metals such as titanium, iron and aluminum have the lowest supply risk.
China dominates global production of minerals and metals and is the leading producer of 27 of the 52 elements listed.
As I have mentioned before, global resources of REEs aren't really all that "rare." In fact, according to the BSG, the crustal abundance of REEs is greater than that of silver. (See this earlier post about a significant source of REEs recently found in Nebraska.)
The current concerns about REE supply relate to China's monopoly on production and the fact that new mines have been slow to come on line.
"There are a wide range of potential deposits around the world that could be mined, which would take away the monopoly of current suppliers of these metals," For example, new research in Malawi carried out by CSM is looking at resources of critical metals associated with rocks known as carbonatites (an igneous form of calcium carbonate," Professor Frances Wall, Head of Camborne School of Mines (CSM) explained.
For more information, see the complete BSG Risk List and comprehensive analysis available here.