There’s been an unexpected discovery of rare earth elements in Sweden that’s getting a lot of attention. Rare earth minerals are used in items like our phones, computers, batteries, electric vehicles and wind turbines. Rare earth production is largely dominated by China so the thinking is the West will benefit from this new discovery. But as Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan explains, the discovery isn’t really that big of a deal.
Excerpted from Peter’s Jan. 16 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:
A state-owned mining company in Sweden has just stumbled upon a million metric tons of rare earth metals…but what does that mean? Any addition to the rare earths supply is great, but I don’t see this moving the needle much.
These metals aren’t all that rare, they’re not difficult to process and they’re not all that expensive…plus we won’t be seeing any of these metals hit the markets for at least 10 years.
While this is a nice discovery for the Swedes, plenty of countries have excess processing capacity should a need arise.
Get every week’s most important stories in your inbox
Hello from cloudy and soon to be snowing, Colorado. The big news of late is that in Sweden, a state-owned mining company, has announced that it’s found a million metric tons of rare earth oxides. And a lot of folks are saying, you know, this is what’s going to break China’s stranglehold on that space.
Rare earth metals are used in a lot of different technological applications. A little goes a long way. They’re used in everything from sunglasses to photo development to green tech to semiconductors. So kind of a big space, and the Chinese do dominate at the moment about 90% of total supply. But I’m really not all excited about this Swedish announcement for three big reasons.
Number one, this is Europe, and you don’t have to find a lot in the ground for it to be Europe’s largest deposit of anything. So a million tonnes of oxides sounds like a lot. But generally out of every tonne or two of rock, you only get about an ounce of material. So while a little does go a long way, this really isn’t all that much.
Second, this is still Europe, and the Swedes themselves are saying 10 to 15 years before the first stuff makes it to market. The technologies involved in purifying rare earth requires several 100 vats of acid as you slowly dissolve and then tease out the materials from one another. They all have similar physical characteristics and atomic weights. So separating them is very difficult, and honestly a little toxic.
Third, but most importantly, it really doesn’t matter because we really don’t have a rare earths problem. And yes, yes, yes, 90% do come from the Chinese. But there’s a few things about rare earths that most people just have forgotten.