China Consolidates Grip on Rare Earths

The ongoing saga of China’s control over rare earth metals is impacting the cost of a number of high-tech goods that use the minerals in manufacturing, including environmentally-friendly compact fluorescent light bulbs, the New York Times reports:

By closing or nationalizing dozens of the producers of rare earth metals — which are used in energy-efficient bulbs and many other green-energy products — China is temporarily shutting down most of the industry and crimping the global supply of the vital resources.

China produces nearly 95 percent of the world’s rare earth materials, and it is taking the steps to improve pollution controls in a notoriously toxic mining and processing industry. But the moves also have potential international trade implications and have started yet another round of price increases for rare earths, which are vital for green-energy products including giant wind turbines, hybrid gasoline-electric cars and compact fluorescent bulbs.

General Electric, facing complaints in the United States about rising prices for its compact fluorescent bulbs, recently noted in a statement that if the rate of inflation over the last 12 months on the rare earth element europium oxide had been applied to a $2 cup of coffee, that coffee would now cost $24.55.

An 11-watt G.E. compact fluorescent bulb — the lighting equivalent of a 40-watt incandescent bulb — was priced on Thursday at $15.88 on Wal-Mart’s Web site for pickup in a Nashville, Ark., store. The average price for fluorescent bulbs has risen 37 percent this year, according to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.

September 15, 2011 11:04 PM
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