While Rare-Earth Trade Dispute Heats Up, Scientists Seek Alternatives
While nations clash with China to ease its monopoly over the rare-earth minerals critical to energy technology, scientists hunt for other options.
In the 21st century, natural resource battles will be fought not only over oil and water, but over elements with tongue-twisting names like dysprosium, yttrium, and neodymium.
(Related: "Pictures: China's Rare Earth Minerals Monopoly")
Perhaps the most important clash so far over these so-called "rare-earth minerals" opened up on March 13 when the United States, Japan, and the European Union filed a complaint at the World Trade Organization against China, which controls 95 percent of world production.
These obscure 17 elements are called rare, but they are actually common. They are just found scattered in such small amounts that the potential return seldom makes the cost of mining them worthwhile. But they help the modern world run, making cell phones buzz, producing