Odds are, if you name any electronic device, it relies on a group of metals known as the rare earths. These metals (most are found on the periodic table in the Lanthanide group) have special properties useful for a wide range of things like magnets, batteries, lasers, lamps, X-ray scanners, and catalysts. Without them, you can’t make wind turbines or smart phones or hybrid cars, so global demand is high and getting higher.
Given that information, consider the following fact: China currently produces 97 percent of the world’s supply of rare earth elements. If ever a market has been cornered, it’s this one.
China isn’t the only nation with economic sources of rare earths, though. If you put together the former USSR states, Australia, and the US, you’ll find about one-third of global reserves—roughly the same amount that China possesses. China has dominated the supply because of its cheap labor and loose environmental regulations, but other sources will soon need to come online to meet rising demand (including from within China itself). Skyrocketing prices will only help stimulate production, but more accessible deposits would also be a boon.