Earth's rarest metals ranked in supply risk list

Sep 14, 2011 by Deborah Braconnier report
Chart indicates the number of times a country is the leading global producer of an element or element group of economic, Source: BGS World Mineral Statistics, BGS©NERC

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new list published by the British Geological Survey, or BGS, ranks 52 of Earth's elements based on their risk of supply disruption. Andrew Bloodworth, from BGS, points out that the likelihood of the world running out of these elements in the near future is slim but that the risks to their supply are from humans.

Risk factors include things such as the delay between finding a resource and its extraction, accidents, geopolitics and resource nationalism. Certain countries also hold a monopoly on most of these elements. China is the home to 97 percent of all and is the main country responsible for extraction of all 52 elements on the new list.

The list includes elements such as indium and niobium which are used in a variety or digital devices and antimony, the element at the top of the list, which is used for fire-proofing.

As early as 10 years ago most of these metals would have been of little interest, but the move toward creating low-carbon and require the use of these metals. Devices such as smart phones, , flat screen televisions and would not be possible.

Bloodworth hopes that this new list will open some eyes to the demand of these metals in both the public and those responsible for their use. The need to diversify their supply sources and eliminate current monopolies on them is crucial. These metals can be found in other areas including Australia, Brazil and Southern Africa and these areas need to be explored for possible extraction locations.

With millions of new phones being made each year, the demand for these metals will not be declining anytime soon. While the metals can be recycled, current placement makes recycling to energy intensive and expensive. They hope this report will show manufactures that they need to design and embed the metals so they are more accessible for recycling.

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User comments : 8

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nikola_grobler_carmody
1 / 5 (1) Sep 14, 2011
Very interesting article, thanx... Kind regards,Nikola Grobler-Carmody, former scientist at CERN
axemaster
4.1 / 5 (11) Sep 14, 2011
China is the home to 97 percent of all rare Earth elements


This is a grossly inaccurate statement. Other countries (including the US) possess the materials, they just don't have workers to dig up the stuff for free, so the mining companies can't compete and the mines lie idle.
TopherTO
4.4 / 5 (7) Sep 14, 2011
China is the home to 97 percent of all rare Earth elements


This is a grossly inaccurate statement. Other countries (including the US) possess the materials, they just don't have workers to dig up the stuff for free, so the mining companies can't compete and the mines lie idle.


While China may not be home to high wages, they don't use "free" labour (ie. slaves) either. Hyperbole or not, don't use inaccuracy to attack inaccuracy.
GDM
5 / 5 (2) Sep 14, 2011
More correctly...China produces 97 percent. Molycorp (US company) is resuming production soon, now that the Japanese have signed some agreements with them as a hedge against China's near monopoly, and also due to cleaner refining processes that Molycorp has developed recently. Several other companies are also getting into the business now that the near monopoly has raised the prices drastically in the past few years. Despite the name "rare" earth minerals are not that rare, just difficult to produce. Knowing all this, I made a small profit in Molycorp last year when it's stock went from $17 to around $50, when I sold.
Sean_W
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 14, 2011
I didn't see Canada on the chart. I'm guessing that such a huge area has some such resources but they are just not as profitable as what is being mined and with a small labour force per unit area, there is a limit to the amount of mining that can be done. If global prices rise and automation increases the productivity of mining Canada may start to provide more of these elements.

Then there was the announcement a while back that Afghanistan has huge mineral wealth if a stable society can emerge to produce it. Who knows how many regions have overlooked such resources simply because they haven't had access to the cutting edge technology and knowledge in geological prospecting.
El_Nose
5 / 5 (2) Sep 15, 2011
@axemater

China is the home to 97 percent of all rare Earth elements and is the main country responsible for extraction of all 52 elements on the new list.


taking a full quote to understand context makes it more revealing -- and the statement was inaccurate only in that

China is home to 97 percent of all rare earths that are currently being mined.

-- Places are being found all the time with rare earth

-- a small town in either Oklahoma or Nebraska just found a load of a rare earth that will make the US the biggest exporter of it in 20yrs.
Shootist
3 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2011
China is the home to 97 percent of all rare Earth elements


This is a grossly inaccurate statement. Other countries (including the US) possess the materials, they just don't have workers to dig up the stuff for free, so the mining companies can't compete and the mines lie idle.


While China may not be home to high wages, they don't use "free" labour (ie. slaves) either. Hyperbole or not, don't use inaccuracy to attack inaccuracy.


Chinese prisoners are used as labor. There are a lot of Chinese prisoners.
frajo
1 / 5 (2) Sep 17, 2011
China is the home to 97 percent of all rare Earth elements
This is a grossly inaccurate statement. Other countries (including the US) possess the materials, they just don't have workers to dig up the stuff for free, so the mining companies can't compete and the mines lie idle.
While China may not be home to high wages, they don't use "free" labour (ie. slaves) either. Hyperbole or not, don't use inaccuracy to attack inaccuracy.
Chinese prisoners are used as labor. There are a lot of Chinese prisoners.
The country with the highest percentage of prisoners is not China. To make prisoners work for low to no wages is common practice in all countries. In the US, they are forced to work for the profit of corporations. See trut-out.org: "The Corrupt Corporate Incarceration Complex".