China could wreak maximum havoc by squeezing supplies of the magnets and motors that use the elements, said Jack Lifton, co-founder of Technology Metals Research LLC, who’s been involved with rare earths since 1962. The impact on American industry could be “devastating,” he said from Michigan…

For example, rare-earth permanent magnets are used in miniature motors or generators in many, now ubiquitous, technologies. In a car, they allow windscreen wipers, electric windows, and power steering to function. And China accounts for as much as 95% of world output, according to Industrial Minerals Co.

“The development of alternative rare earth supplies is not something that can occur overnight,” said George Bauk, chief executive officer of Northern Minerals Ltd, which produces rare earths carbonate, a preliminary product, from a pilot plant in Western Australia. “There will be a lag time for the development of any new projects.”