If you’ve had to replace a light bulb in your home lately, then you have may have noticed that the price for lighting has gone up significantly. The reason behind the price hike is two-fold: 1) recent legislation that passed, mandating the phasing out of the light bulb as we know it, and 2) the current rare earths shortage, most of which is courtesy of China’s near-total monopoly and its recent clampdown on export quotas.
The trickle-down effect has now impacted on of the largest end users of Rare Earth Elements (REEs) in lighting, and it has them reeling. GE Lighting relies heavily on REEs for the manufacturing of its products, specifically compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, and it recently issued a brochure informing its customers about the problem and the company’s mitigation efforts.
Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done in the short term. Bulbs using fewer rare earth materials or alternative sources of REE supply would take too long to develop. What’s worse is that resource scarcity (defined not just in geological terms, but also as the result of policy shifts on the part of supplier nations) is not an issue confined to rare earths. A look at page six of the USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries 2011 tells the story of America’s looming resource deficit– and it’s one to which the U.S. policy community, as well as end users and consumers, should pay close attention.