My grades in high school chemistry were less than stellar. The only thing I really recall is memorizing the periodic table. Had my science teacher informed me that the obscure rare earth elements would eventually set Wall Street on fire, I may have been more attentive.

Rare Earth Elements (REE) or rare earth metals are a collection of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, namely scandium (#21), yttrium (#39), and the fifteen lanthanoids (#’s 57 -71 on the periodical table). We can even include platinum (#78) and uranium (#92) as well.

REE elements are incorporated into many modern technological devices; you can't build a Prius, an accurate missile, or a wind turbine without them. They are also vital to new technologies such as iPhones and flat screen televisions, green energy technology such as solar and geothermal, and critical to the future of hybrid and electric cars. Easily obtainable sources of Rare Earth Elements are also becoming less common.

At least on Earth. Recently, astronomers used the Suzaku orbiting X-ray observatory, to discover the largest known cache of rare metals in the universe to date. Suzaku detected the elements chromium and manganese while observing the central region of the Perseus galaxy cluster, which lies 225 million light-years from Earth.

The portion of the cluster within Suzaku's field of view is some 1.4 million light-years across, or roughly one-fifth of the cluster's total width. It contains a staggering amount of metal atoms: The amount of chromium is 30 million times the sun's mass, or 10 trillion times Earth's mass. The manganese reservoir weighs in at about 8 million solar masses.

Needless to say, if we could figure out how to become miners of intergalactic rare metals, we would. But, for the time being, we cannot.

And thanks to the threat of an export boycott by China, which controls about 95% of the current global supply of rare earth elements, the stocks of the few non-Chinese companies with rare-earth mines are some of the most attractive penny stocks for speculative players.

Uranium and vanadium producer Denison Mines Corp (DNN–AMEX / DML-TSX) is a financially robust company with a strong exploration and development portfolio, and international land positions. While the company recently announced that its McClean Lake uranium mill will be put in a care and maintenance mode in mid-2010, the company’s Wheeler River joint venture could, in time, drive Denison’s growth.

American Lithium Minerals, Inc. (AMLM - OTCBB) is an innovative development stage company that has strategically acquired interests in America's richest lithium reserves. In June, the company announced the closing of its acquisition of 16,000 acres in the lithium-rich Montezuma Valley, Nevada. On September 23, it announced it started work on the Montezuma Valley project. In November, AMLM announced it signed a Letter of Intent to Acquire Premier Lithium Property in Utah.

The growing need for batteries used in hybrid and electric cars will cause demand for lithium, the key ingredient in the next generation of batteries, to surge from a projected 11,000 metric tons in 2012 to almost 90,000 metric tons in 2020.

The electric motor in a Toyota Prius uses about 2 pounds of neodymium in its permanent magnets. Each Prius battery also uses 20 to 30 pounds of another rare earth element, lanthanum.

Avalon Rare Metals Inc. (AVL – TSX) is a mineral exploration and development company focused on the rare metal deposits in Canada. Its flagship project, the 100%-owned Nechalacho Deposit, Thor Lake, Northwest Territories, is emerging as one of the largest undeveloped rare earth elements resources in the world.

Avalon has returned very high-grade drill results and their Thor Lake deposit has high concentrations of heavy rare earth elements, nearly double the typical concentration. Avalon presently owns five rare metal and mineral projects in Canada, four of which are at advanced stages of development.

Why should penny stock investors be interested in North American rare earth metal plays? One reason – China.

China controls about 95% of the global production of REE. They also control about 99% of the production for rare earth metals, such as dysprosium and terbium, and 95% of neodymium. Recently, China started to reduce the amount of rare earth metals that could be exported, and this year the plan is to reduce exports further.

Companies outside China face the very real possibility of not only paying higher prices but of not being able to buy the raw materials they need at all.

Author's Bio: 

John Whitefoot is a seasoned penny stock investor with a keen interest in international business and current affairs. With many years of experience in the investment community, John Whitefoot is Sr. Editor at PennyStockInsider.com and is devoted to uncovering the news, trends, and ideas that affect penny stocks on a daily basis.