http://www.edn.com/article/CA6707793.ht ... th+magnets
ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is proposing a total ban on exports of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium and a restriction on neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum to a total of 35,000 tons a year, which is far below global needs. Many of these metals are vital to energy-efficient technology. For example, neodymium finds use in rare-earth magnets for high-efficiency motors, and new front-loading clothes washers use rare-earth magnets in their motors.
According to a recent article (Reference 1), Ã¢â‚¬Å“No replacement has been found for neodymium that enhances the power of magnets at high heat and is crucial for hard-disk drives, wind turbines, and the electric motors of hybrid cars. Each Toyota Prius uses 25 pounds of rare-earth elements. Cerium and lanthanum are used in catalytic converters for diesel engines.Ã¢â‚¬Â Manufacturers use terbium in the phosphors of CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) to tweak their light to a more pleasant spectrum.
China is currently the only producer of some of these metals, so the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s restriction or banning of its exports will affect energy-efficient products worldwide. According to the article, ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s intent is not to hold the rest of the world hostage; China needs these metals for its internal consumption.
China put many global competitors in rare-earth minerals out of business in the early 1990s by flooding the market, leading to the closure of the biggest US rare-earth mine, in Mountain Pass, CA, which Molycorp Minerals operates. The mine is one of the worldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s largest and richest rare-earth deposits, and the company is producing a variety of green elements there. It plans to bring the facility back into full production and re-establish domestic manufacturing capacity.