As technology continues to advance, more uses for rare earths are being discovered by industry. Smartphones, hybrid automobiles, flat panel TV sets, wind turbines, low-energy light bulbs, medical imaging equipment, camera lenses, fiber optic cables, lasers, cutting edge energy storage units, computer equipment, magnets and much more use rare earths in their construction.
Leading the charge will be demand for certain REEs, in particular: neodymium, dysprosium, terbium, yttrium and europium. Neodymium is an LREE while the last four are HREEs. These have all seen their values skyrocket since 2009.
Additionally, the rise of more of the world's population towards the first world brings with it a rise in their greater spending power and the need for more consumer items that require these elements. Rapidly emerging middle classes in India and China are examples of this trend.
Many rare earths have found unique applications for newer technology that reduces humanity's impact on the environment. As mentioned above, a new generation of energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs uses rare earths in their manufacturing. Up to 1,000 grams of neodymium is needed to make several components for hybrid automobiles while another rare earth, dysprosium, is required to construct the lithium battery that powers the hybrid vehicle.
Magnets manufactured using rare earth metals are capable of being far stronger than traditional metal magnets, and also much smaller in size. This makes them ideal for the motors of renewable energy equipment like wind turbines where being as lightweight as possible is a key requirement, or mobile phones which need increasingly smaller sized components.
Computers and other electronic devices are also using lanthanum-nickel-hydride rechargeable batteries, which produce less toxic pollution than the older nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries.
China is the current world leader for mining and selling rare earths, accountable for 95% of the market. However, the superpower has recently begun to significantly curtail its exports of rare earths. In 2010, the country reduced its export quota by 70%, and for 2011 by 35%. This has caused the price of rare earths to dramatically increase on the world exchange markets.
There is much speculation as to why China has changed its exporting numbers for rare earths. One theory is that they now want to use their stockpile of rare earths to build the country's infrastructure such as high rail transport systems and newer, environmentally cleaner technologies.
Whatever China's reason is for reducing their rare earth exports, there's one guaranteed outcome: new sources of rare earths will have to be found to satisfy the growing worldwide demand for these elements.