Rare earth minerals power many of today's products, including smart phones, computers and defence weapons.
But the industry creates serious environmental waste.
China has 95 per cent of the market but aroused international alarm recently by drastically cutting rare earth exports and using it as a global trade weapon. Prices rose 300 per cent last year with top consumers scrambling to find new sources.
Lynas, an Australian mining company is set to fill the gap, building the world's largest rare earth refinery in Malaysia. But critics say it may cause an environmental disaster, similar to one from a defunct plant in the country 20 years earlier.
This 101 East episode can be seen from Thursday, May 12, 2011 at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2230; Friday: 0930; Saturday: 0330; Sunday: 1630.
Source: Al Jazeera