Japanese still worried that dysprosium will be in continuing short supply

Cerium at $US38/kg. Neodymium fetching $US145/kg. Dysprosium at $US1,800/kg. Since July, these represent declines of 75 per cent, 68 per cent and 51 per cent respectively.

That’s the latest prices news out of Japan via the Nikkei news service. The commentary is that REE demand has been softening because of high prices last year (a theme that recurred at the Sydney REE conference this week – see my earlier posts) and weaker demand for LCD television sets. The Nikkei is also expecting cerium to tip into surplus this year after shipments begin from Mt Weld and Mountain Pass (which will be no surprise to any RMB readers).

However, the Japanese are still worried that dysprosium will be in continuing short supply due to China’s hanging tough on environmental matters, and its refusal to supply export quotas to mines that do not measure up.

Meanwhile, the Kyodo news agency says the Japanese government has now drafted its bill to require consumers to make efforts to recycle used electronic products containing rare earths or any elements useful to companies producing hybrid vehicles and precision electronics. This would be an implausible ploy in most Western countries, but Japanese consumers can be expected to respond: after the public calm, absence of looting and methodical behaviour following the earthquake and tsunami last year, one can have few doubts about the readiness of Japanese to act in their country’s economic interests.

The government is particularly targeting the recycling of mobile phone handsets and digital cameras, probably the most widely held items that would be covered by the proposed law.

Kyodo says the bill calls for the central government to budget for the promotion of such a recycling system and for local governments to take measures for separate collection of used electronic products and to deliver them to processors capable of recycling such resources. The bill asks makers to review materials and designs of those products as part of efforts to cut recycling costs and promote the reuse of rare earth and metal resources extracted from used products.

It also aims to crack down on recycling businesses with fines up to ¥300,000 ($US3,750) if they file false reports. The government estimates that it could potentially recover ¥84.4 billion ($1.05 billion) in REE and other metals.

In another development, Showa Denko plans by 2015 to triple profits from manufacturing alloys for rare earth magnets. The company makes between 6,000 tonnes and 7,000 tonnes a year of these alloys in total from its plants in Japan and China. It is also tripling production at its alloy plant in Vietnam, aiming at 600 tonnes a year. The Nikkei service says that Showa Denko plans to have three main pillars of its business: alloys for magnets, magnetic disks for hard drives and graphite electrodes for electric furnaces.