Rare-earth metals are critical to the modern economy as they are a key material for making batteries that power electric vehicles; are added to touchscreens and circuit boards in smartphones; and are used in laser systems that guide missiles and bombs.
While European Union countries are among the world’s biggest electric-vehicle markets, the bloc as a whole has only a few rare-earth metal deposits. Other than deposits in several countries such as Greenland, Norway, and Finland, the EU relies on imports to support industrial demand. Cobalt, one of the key minerals in manufacturing lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars and smartphones, is currently only mined in Finland, among all EU countries.
The Geological Survey of Sweden (SGU), a Swedish government agency, issued an updated report on the Scandinavian country’s rare-earth deposits Dec. 7, detailing the country’s geological potential for mining the metals. But the potential mining boom in Sweden could be dashed because of China’s dominance in the market, said a Swedish analyst.
“China has historically used its strong leverage to influence prices and minimize competition,” Tobias Persson, an analyst at Growth Analysis, told Swedish national radio broadcaster Sveriges Radio AB, on Dec. 10. Growth Analysis is a think tank directed by the Swedish government.
China currently controls more than 90 percent of the global supply in rare-earth metals, according to a January 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Energy. Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo accounted for 65 percent of global cobalt supplies in 2017, according to the research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.
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