Rare earth metals are a collection of 17 chemical elements that are key to the production of a long list of modern-day technologies.
Despite their name, the elements are relatively plentiful in the earth’s crust. However, because of their geochemical properties, the elements are not often found in concentrated forms that are economically viable to extract. Mining them is not only complex but costly, so many countries are cautious.
China produces more than 95 per cent of the elements for the world’s technology industry. The rest is supplied by the US, Estonia, India, Malaysia and Brazil.
That may change, however, as demand for rare-earth metals rises for use in products such as smartphones, electric and hybrid cars, common computer monitors and televisions.
Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan, reporting from the Baotou mines in China, examines the importance of these elements.