In 2008, China supplied 139,000 tons worldwide, 97 per cent of the world's total rare-earth production.
The architect of modern China, Deng Xiaoping, realized the significance of the elements lurking in the arid wastes of Inner Mongolia almost 20 years ago when he said: 'There is oil in the Middle East but there is rare-earth in China.'
With names like cerium, lanthanum, and ytterbium, rare earth elements aren’t exactly household names.
But the consumer products they are used in - such as magnets, camera lenses, and batteries - certainly are.
There are 17 rare earth elements in all, but these key metals aren’t as rare as the name suggests. (In fact, some are relatively abundant in Earth’s crust.)
The vast majority of rare earths—96 percent of the market—come from China.