China supplies most of the rare earth minerals found in technologies such as hybrid cars, wind turbines, computer hard drives and cell phones, but the U.S. has its own largely untapped reserves that could safeguard future tech innovation.
Those reserves include deposits of both “light” and “heavy” rare earths – families of minerals that help make everything from TV displays to magnets in hybrid electric motors. A company called U.S. Rare Earths holds the only known U.S. deposit of heavy rare earths with a concentration worth mining, according to a recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Light rare earths include the minerals ranging from lanthanum to gadolinium on the periodic table of elements, while heavy rare earths range from terbium to lutetium.
If developed, such deposits could help the U.S. avoid a possibly crippling rare earth shortage in the next decade. China has warned that its own industrial demands could compel it to stop exporting rare earths within the next five or 10 years.