Good news, lighting fans! Japan has recently found a large reserve of rare earth metals off its Pacific coast. Until now, the rare earth market has been dominated by China, which produces around 90% of the world’s rare earth metals. In the past, China has been able to control the market by reducing production and raising prices. Unfortunately, the increase in cost is passed on to the customers. The recent find is said to be big enough to allow Japan to compete with China. This could lower the price of rare earth metals for the rest of the world! Read more about rare earth here.
You might be asking, so what do I care about rare earth metals? Well lighting fans, Dr. Bulb is here to tell you how rare earth metals affect you. Rare earth metals are used for producing electronics, including LED lamps and fluorescent lighting. Rare earth metals include the fifteen lanthanides plus scandium and yttrium and are not as rare as the name leads you to believe. Rare earth elements are actually quite abundant in the earth’s crust but are usually found in very small quantities, making them difficult to mine.
Japan’s discovery has been reported to be 20 to 30 times more concentrated than China’s mines. Estimated at 6.8 million metric tons, it could be enough rare earth to last for up to 230 years. This could lead to a break up in the rare earth monopoly that China has held for several years. The competition will lower prices of the products that use rare earth metals such as computers, phones, fluorescent lights and LED lights.
This will affect the lighting industry and the transition to a more LED-filled world. The biggest reason for not converting to LED bulbs is the upfront costs. Read more about why people pay more for LED bulbs in my recent blog “Why Would I Pay More For LED.” If this rare earth deposit in Japan can lower the prices for LED lighting then we will be on our way to a more energy efficient world.
Japan now needs to develop a system to process the rare earth metals into usable material. I think it could create a lot of jobs and they could build a whole economy around the product. So once Japan is able to transport the metals to the surface and process the materials, you can bet that the production costs of light bulbs will decrease.
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