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Keywords:

  • rare earth elements;
  • REEs;
  • mineral resources;
  • OSTP initiative

China's dominance in the production of rare earth elements (REEs) peaked with that nation producing 97% of them in 2010; this number already has dipped to 90% in 2012 as mines in other nations are coming online, according to REE expert Karl Gschneidner Jr., a professor at Iowa State University's Ames Laboratory. Chinese production could drop to 60% by 2014, with production increasing at mines in the United States and other countries, he said. However, this reduction in China's share of REE production does not signal an end to the production crisis in REEs and other critical minerals, Gschneidner and others noted during a 1 May panel discussion on critical materials shortages at the AGU Science Policy Conference in Washington, D. C. REEs are a group of 17 chemically similar metallic elements used in a variety of electronic, optical, magnetic, and catalytic applications, and despite their name, they are relatively plentiful in the Earth's crust. China's control of known REE reserves has dropped from 75% in 1975 to 30.9% in 2012, with other regions also having large reserves, including the Commonwealth of Independent States (some former Soviet Republic states), the United States, and Australia, according to Gschneidner. Critical minerals are mineral commodities that are particularly important for a nation's economy or national defense that could potentially face supply disruptions.