There are 17 Rare Earth Elements. They are crucial for the production of our computers, electric cars, medical devices, drones, and clouds. Dr. Alex King leads the Critical Materials Institute in Ames, Iowa, he told me that if I could get inside a Cloud Data Center I would find lots of Neodymium, a Rare Earth Element, in the custom hard drives. And companies like Amazon, he says, actually use wind turbines packed with giant Neodymium magnets to power and cool these hard drives. Plus, all of the devices we use to connect to the cloud also contain Rare Earth elements.
So when I learned that 95% of the World’s Supply of Rare Earth comes from China — I decided I had to go. I wanted to see a Rare Earth Mine with my own eyes.
I went to Ganzhou, China. It turns out that it is much easier to get a tour of an illegal Rare Earth mine in China than it is to get inside an Amazon data center.