For years, the trade war between China and the US has escalated. But it is not until May 2019 that we see its peak: Huawei, the star of China's technology industry, is banned by the US, implicating a series of vendors offering hardware and software. "Vacation" with Huawei.
One of the measures China can use to respond is to stop exporting rare earths – an essential element for electronics manufacturing. China is the world's largest source of rare earths today, and the United States uses rare earths to make smartphones, electric cars, batteries, and more. The Chinese support this plan, they call the rare earth "the trump card in Beijing's hands."
Rare earth elements are also known as "chemical vitamins", when a small amount of this "additive" will create powerful effects in electronics: stronger magnets, electronic device screens. brighter, higher battery capacity thanks to rare earth. If China stops supplying rare earth, the entire electronics industry will go back in the decade. Nobody wants to give up their smartphones to return to using old black and white bricks.
But industry experts are not worried about dangerous feelings. They argue that the introduction of new rules on rare earth will be counterproductive, so the US and other countries will adapt to scarcity of rare earths.
"If China stops immediately the supply of rare earth, we will face short-term problems first", Tom Worstall, a rare earth merchant told The Verge. "That problem is not difficult to solve".
The reason for China cannot use rare earths to threaten the electronics industry so much, stretching like the Great Wall, through factors such as geography, chemistry and history. But the most important factor is the most easily explained factor: rare earth is not rare, just that name.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) describes rare earths as "medium-high." They are not as much as silicon or iron, but still have the same amount of lead or copper. China owns a large amount of rare earth, but Brazil, Canada, Australia, India, the US and Japan all have rare earths.
Difficulties in refining rare earths (and also the reason they are given the "rare" name) lie in the fact that rare earths are not made into ore, but also with many other impurities. The chemistry of rare earth is on par with that of a sociable youth, anyone can pair; extracting rare earth from ore is like persuading a drunken friend to stop drinking to go home, a long and repressive process.
According to Eugene Gholz, rare earth expert and professor at the University of Notre Dame: “Once you take the rare earth out of the soil, you find it difficult to be in the chemical processing stage, not the mining stage".
Unlike the sweet words used to admonish a drunk friend, treat rare earth that requires strong acid and some radiation that can cause cancer. This is one of the reasons for many countries to produce rare earths for China, which has abundant labor and rare earth mines that are unaware of the environment.
China has also risen to first place in the list of rare earth producing countries. Between the 68s and 80s, a large amount of the world's rare earth came from Mountain Pass mines in the US. The factory closed in 1998 due to problems with toxic wastewater.
From the 90s on, Chinese people dominated the source of rare earths, but they also paid expensive environmental prices. In 2010, the Chinese government estimated the amount of hazardous waste that the rare earth industry discharged a year to 20 million tons. Data from many sources indicate that China accounts for 95% of the world's total rare earth production, but the USGS believes that the data are old, the number is now almost 80%.
The 80% figure is still large, and the question remains valid: what if China stops exporting rare earths? Fortunately, we have a history that tells us what happened last time, when China stopped moving rare earths to Japan. The ban is effective, but the effect it creates is not much.
The smugglers of rare earths have additional business markets, Japanese producers have found ways to use less rare earth, the output of electronics in other countries has increased to make up for Japan. "This world is very flexible", Eugene Gholz said,"people do not give up, they adapt to new circumstances".
Gholz wrote a report from 2010, but he still thinks it is no different in 2019.
If China stops exporting rare earths, existing material suppliers will still have enough rare earth to return to urgent facilities, short-term fire fighting may be enough to withstand the storm. commercial paintings. Whether electronics or crude oil (oil refining also requires rare earths) can raise prices, Gholz says you can still buy the latest smartphones without compromising.
And this is just a prediction, China still has no official move. Due to this opportunity, many establishments have accumulated large amounts of rare earth that can immediately cope with potential risks. Here, new refineries of rare earth appear.
When the ban took place, one of the key points to the technology industry would be the Mountain Pass mine, which went back to operation in January this year. "The most economical and fastest way to deal is to add more rare earths to the market, don't we have to go up from the numbers?"Gholz said.
Worstall agreed, "The production of rare earth is surprisingly simple".
One thing that bothers us is that the process of refining rare earth will cost a lot. Especially when US safety standards are higher than China, the establishment of a rare earth production facility will face many obstacles.
Is it not that the technology industry can adapt in the future (because whatever type will be adapted), it must be asked: Can they stand firm in the present time?