In June of 2011, EdisonReport published a price increase letter from GE Lighting announcing a 25% increase in the price for fluorescent lamps due to a shortage of rare earth elements. This was a bold and drastic step, but at that time rare earth minerals pricing was skyrocketing with very limited supply.
All phosphors – the ones used in LEDs; also the ones used in common T8s. CFLs, etc. – use Rare Earth elements. Automotive lighting uses a lot of Rare Earth minerals.
Despite the name, RE elements are not rare, scarce, or in any way hard to find. However, China supplies 80% of the US demand and they are threatening. According to an article in Bloomberg, China is weighing its options after the U.S. blacklisted Huawei Technologies and China is “seriously” considering restricting rare earth exports to the U.S. and may also implement other countermeasures, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times, said in a tweet.
Think about this. What if China only supplied RE to Chinese phosphor companies and those phosphor companies only sold to Chinese luminaire manufacturers. Add this to the dumping of LED luminaires in the US market as well as the 31% tariffs and Lighting truly is in the cross hairs of the US-China trade war.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Indium and Gallium were rare earth elements. They are not, they are run of the mill group III elements.