Concern as China clamps down on rare earth exports

Concern as China clamps down on rare earth exports

Postby Oscar » Sun Jan 03, 2010 8:08 am

Concern as China clamps down on rare earth exports ... 55387.html

Neodymium is one of 17 metals crucial to green technology. There’s only one snag – China produces 97% of the world’s supply. And they’re not selling

By Cahal Milmo Saturday, 2 January 2010

Britain and other Western countries risk running out of supplies of certain highly sought-after rare metals that are vital to a host of green technologies, amid growing evidence that China, which has a monopoly on global production, is set to choke off exports of valuable compounds.

Failure to secure alternative long-term sources of rare earth elements (REEs) would affect the manufacturing and development of low-carbon technology, which relies on the unique properties of the 17 metals to mass-produce eco-friendly innovations such as wind turbines and low-energy lightbulbs.

China, whose mines account for 97 per cent of global supplies, is trying to ensure that all raw REE materials are processed within its borders. During the past seven years it has reduced by 40 per cent the amount of rare earths available for export.

Industry sources have told The Independent that China could halt shipments of at least two metals as early as next year, and that by 2012 it is likely to be producing only enough REE ore to satisfy its own booming domestic demand, creating a potential crisis as Western countries rush to find alternative supplies, and companies open new mines in locations from South Africa to Greenland to satisfy international demand.

Amid claims that Beijing is using its rare earths monopoly as a tool of foreign policy, the British Department of Business, Industry and Skills said it was "monitoring" the supply of REEs to ensure China was observing international trade rules.

Jack Lifton, an independent consultant and a world expert on REEs, said: "A real crunch is coming. In America, Britain and elsewhere we have not yet woken up to the fact that there is an urgent need to secure the supply of rare earths from sources outside China. China has gone from exporting 75 per cent of the raw ore it produces to shipping just 25 per cent, and it does not consider itself to be under any obligation to ensure supplies of rare earths to anyone but itself. There has been an effort in the West to set up new mines but these are five to 10 years away from significant production."

After decades in which they were considered little more than geological oddities, rare earths have recently become a boom industry after the invention of a succession of devices, including iPhones and X-ray machines, which rely on their specific properties.

Global demand has tripled from 40,000 tonnes to 120,000 tonnes over the past 10 years, during which time China has steadily cut annual exports from 48,500 tonnes to 31,310 tonnes.

Worldwide, the industries reliant on REEs, which produce anything from fibre-optic cables to missile guidance systems, are estimated to be worth £3 trillion, or 5 per cent of global GDP.

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Chasing China - For rare earths, an abundance of interest

Postby Oscar » Thu Jul 21, 2011 5:32 pm

Chasing China - For rare earths, an abundance of interest ... story/gam/

VANRHYNSDORP, SOUTH AFRICA and VANCOUVER -- Filled with radioactive waste, its buildings gutted and crumbling after 48 years of disuse, the abandoned Steenkampskraal mine would seem to hold little value to anyone.
Until recently, the decaying apartheid-era mine in a remote patch of South African desert was mainly of interest to scientists studying the effects of high radiation on the thousands of bats that hibernate in the mine shaft.
But soon the bats will be evicted, the radioactive waste will be buried and the shaft refurbished. The Canadian owners of this mine are scrambling to tap the mine's rare-earth minerals - possibly the hottest commodity on the planet these days, with immense strategic and technological significance, and pivotal to a global geopolitical rivalry.
As prices soar, there is a frantic global rush to develop new sources of rare earths. These obscure minerals - 17 different elements with futuristic names such as neodymium, samarium, yttrium and lanthanum - are crucial for everything from guided missiles and hybrid cars to flat-screen televisions, iPods and BlackBerry phones.
Western leaders are increasingly anxious about China's chokehold on a 97 per cent share of the supply, controlling the market with its abundant, low-cost production. The country dominates with just 37 per cent of the world's proven reserves. It produced 118,900 tonnes of rare earths in 2010, and exported just over 30,000 tonnes. Leaders have watched nervously as China restricts its exports, resulting in price rises of up to tenfold for some rare earths over the past year.
China updated its rare earth quotas this week, which put them on par for 2011 with last year's numbers. The U.S. and the European Union later complained that Beijing had, in fact, added products to the list, and are calling for a new, fairer export restrictions policy.
The new quotas came after the World Trade Organization recently ruled against China for limiting exports of nine raw materials such as coke, zinc and bauxite. The case is expected to empower the U.S. and the European Union to file another complaint against China over its quotas on the export of rare-earth materials. Beijing maintains its rare-earth quotas fall within trade regulations.
China has openly used its monopoly as a political weapon, dramatically raising the stakes in the rare-earth business by cutting off supplies to Japan during a territorial dispute last year.
This, in turn, has triggered the interest of U.S. politicians, who allege that Chinese "hoarding" is a threat to the Pentagon's missiles and California's high-tech sector. Even Sarah Palin, the populist Republican, has complained that China is "bending us over a barrel" by controlling the rare-earth industry and forcing the United States to become dependent on Chinese production.
Never has an industry enjoyed so much influence from so little production. The global rare-earth industry is worth only $1.5-billion, yet the industries relying on it are worth an estimated $4.8-trillion. And they are vital to some of the world's fastest-growing products: smart phones, electric cars, high-tech weaponry, wind turbines, and almost anything with miniature electronics. [ . . . ]
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