In contrast to what is commonly asserted, securing specialty metal supply has little to do with physical scarcity or lopsided geological distributions that hand control of these resources to a small number of countries.
Instead, the key problem is a demand explosion has been confronting a tiny industry still in the early stages of development. The sector suddenly needs to be scaled at tremendous speed if markets are to balance. The result is severe growing pains.
Research into specialty metals has led to the development of new materials with astonishing properties that are vastly superior to traditional materials, and we are still only beginning to understand their enormous potential.
The revolution rare earths have brought to magnet technologies over the past two decades is just one example. Industry sectors like consumer electronics, aerospace, chemicals and automotives require rapidly growing amounts as they apply specialty metals ever more widely.