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The Rare Earth Metals the U.S. Wants That China's Got

The Atlantic

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The move is an apparent rebuttal to the formal complaint with regards to China's restricting exports of rare-earth metals that President Obama filed with the World Trade Organization in partnership with the European Union and Japan less than a month ago. It's unclear how the new government agency will regulate rare earth-metal exports. Nevertheless, the event provides a good opportunity to take a step back and put into context exactly how desperately we might might miss these natural resources should China decide to clamp down on access further. If you're still confused about why this is becoming such a hot international and environmental issue, we've pulled together the uses of the top nine rare earth-metals, and we bet you'd miss them if they were gone.

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Much like erbium, its neighbor on the periodic table, europium is used in glass and lasers. However, europium is a little bit more versatile and is used to produce everything from to the anti-counterfeiting technology in European bank notes to the red in TV and smartphone displays. Yttrium is another rare earth-metal used to create red pixels.



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Cerium, like many other rare earth-metals, is useful for TV screens and lighting, but this one has a bit of a twist. As a catalytic converter, cerium can clean up greenhouse gases, a real perk in this day and age. As a result, the element is used everywhere from oven cleaner to oil refineries. And since China's got the bulk of the world's mineable supply -- not to mention a pollution problem -- we hope they use it for good.



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Remember your old Fender Stratocaster? The red one with the whammy bar and black leather strap? Part of the reason it sounded so great when you thrashed was neodymium. This metal makes great magnets that tend to be used in guitar pickups, microphones and in-ear headpghones. Larger versions can come in handy when building hybrid cars and jet engines. Splendidly, it also makes an excellent additive in plant fertilizer. 

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