(Bloomberg) — Rare earths are among the most critical raw materials on the planet, yet few people can name them or know what they do. They are used to make so-called permanent magnets that create a field for motors to run in perpetuity.
These are in everything from lithium-ion batteries to electric vehicles, wind turbines and missile guidance systems. They’re fundamental as they help transfer energy into movement.
They represent a vulnerability for the U.S., which is 80% reliant for rare earths on imports from China, and also for Europe. Now they risk becoming a contentious issue in U.S.-China trade itself.
1. What are rare earths?
Minerals and metals found in the ground. They’re mined like any other commodity, then processed. The phrase refers to a group of 17 chemically related elements that have magnetic and optical properties useful for making electronics more efficient.
Electric vehicle makers rely on them for lighter-weight battery and motor components. Neodymium and praseodymium combine to powerful magnets used in aircraft, headphones and much more.
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