Earbuds, touch screens, CFLs with a warm glow, rechargeable batteries and power windows: Most of us take these things for granted. When we do, we also take for granted a group of elements called rare earth metals, whose special electronic and magnetic properties make them a key component of many 21st century technologies. These 17 elements are actually plentiful enough undefined you probably have some in your backyard undefined but except for a few ore deposits, they are found in nature in low concentrations that make them difficult to collect. As they are integral parts of cell phones, hard drives, hybrid cars, wind turbines and other products with skyrocketing demand, rare earth metals face soaring demand, too.
As recently as 2010, China produced about 97 percent of the world's supply of rare earth elements. That year the country decided to limit exports, which drove prices through the roof.
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