China plays truant with rare earth metals

April 2, 2012 (Source: Business Standard) — Toyota Tsusho Corp of Japan, which is in the process of commissioning a rare earths plant in Odisha is lucky to have been spared agitations by hairshirted environmental groups that are the fate of similar smelters built elsewhere in the world. Agitations are because any smelter engaged in production of rare earths elements is fraught with harming the environment. Undeniably, mining and processing of rare earths will leave in their wake many toxic and radioactive by-products.

Fears of fouling the environment and inviting the wrath of environmentalists are what have so far largely restrained developed countries, including the US, from producing rare earths. It is only now, frustrated by shenanigans of China, the source of 90 per cent of the world’s processed rare earths metals, relating to imposition of unnerving export restrictions that alternative sources of supply are sought to be developed.

So, as Toyota Tsusho is readying itself to annually make 4,000 tonnes of rare earths oxides here from rare earths chloride mixtures, by-products derived from monazite minerals in the process of deriving fuels like uranium and thorium, the long abandoned mine at Mountain Pass in California is to be recommenced this year.

The world needs uninterrupted supply of 17 kinds of rare earth metals for making flat screen televisions, wind turbines, hybrid cars, weapons and new generation lighting devices. But with China playing truant – this is amply in evidence in reframed export quotas and their execution making it difficult to pin it down for infringement of rules laid down by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – Australia, too, is off the blocks to mine and refine rare earth elements. This is despite the country owning less than two per cent of the global rare earth oxide resources. Neither the refinery coming up in Western Australia nor the one under construction in Pahang state of Malaysia by the Australian mining company Lynas at an investment of $235 million is spared protests on the grounds of potential leaks of radioactive waste.

Protestors have a point. But their concerns can be mitigated by employing foolproof technology which both Toyota Tsusho and Lynas are claiming to have employed in their respective plants in Orissa and Pahang. A reading of The Economist piece on the subject lets one see the dialectics involved in mining and refining rare earth elements. It goes like this. The goal being to keep carbon dioxide emissions level in the atmosphere to “a tolerable level of global warming,” it is imperative “peppering the landscape with wind turbines and replacing petrol-guzzling vehicles with electric ones.”

But for making magnets essential for generators and motors of wind turbines and electric cars, rare earths dysprosium and neodymium are essential. Three materials scientists from MIT have said in an article published in Environmental Science and Technology that if wind turbines and electric cars are to play their role in limiting carbon emissions, then there is going to be an exponential rise in demand for dysprosium and neodymium in the next 25 years. This has led The Economist to say “barring a breakthrough in magnet technology… the world’s geologists would do well to start scouring the planet for rare earths ores now.”

In our country reserves of monazite minerals along the shores are found in abundance. While it may be owning 17 per cent of the world’s beach sand mineral resources, its share in global production is hardly six per cent.

China has been a constant source of irritation, as it keeps the rest of the world on tenterhooks about supply of strategic rare earths metals. This has finally led the US, the EU and Japan to jointly file a trade case against China so that there is no violation of internationally accepted trade rules.

Whether the joint move is too little and too late remains a subject of animated debate. In the meantime, China continues to play its rare earths card deftly. Last year, WTO pulled up Beijing by passing an order dismantling Chinese export duties and quotas on nine industrial raw materials. Smarting under the ruling, Beijing now requires of companies having export quotas of rare earths metals to pass the environment muster before they are given clearances to ship out any consignments to foreign destinations.

In the first place China remains annoyingly stingy in releasing export quotas. It may not, however, be wrong in believing that WTO will find it difficult to pass strictures against China for being export obstructive because of the environment angle involved in using quotas.

An important plank of Chinese strategy could be by being acutely ungenerous in releasing export quotas of rare earth metals, it could get many foreign companies desperately needing such materials to open shop in the mainland. This already has happened. Now that quota execution has been made so much more difficult, other foreign companies are likely to build manufacturing units in China in order to be spared tensions about sustained supply of such metals. Moreover, users in China get their supplies at comparatively low costs. At the same time, skyrocketing of rare earths prices in the world market is the incentive many countries, including India needed to start making investments in mining and processing of rare earth minerals.

How Does China’s Rare Earth Mining Catastrophe Affect the Supply of Rare Earth Metals?

China’s rare earth mining catastrophe has a significant impact on the supply of rare earth metals worldwide. The environmental impact of China’s mining activities can lead to disruptions in the supply chain, causing shortages and price fluctuations. Sustainable mining practices are crucial to mitigate china’s environmental impact.

How Is Australia’s Rare Metals Industry Affected by China’s Actions with Rare Earth Metals?

Australia’s rare metals industry is closely impacted by China’s actions with rare earth metals. As one of the world’s leading producers of rare metals, Australia’s market is heavily dependent on China’s decisions and policies. Any disruptions or changes in China’s rare earth metals trade can significantly affect Australia’s rare metals industry.

Is China’s Control Over Rare Earth Metals Resulting in Illegal Mining Activities?

China’s rare earth crackdown has tightened control over the mining of these valuable materials. Unfortunately, this has led to an increase in illegal mining activities as demand for rare earth metals continues to grow. It’s crucial for the international community to address this issue and find sustainable solutions.

Is China’s Rare Earth Metal Monopoly at Risk with the Emergence of Alternative Sources?

The emergence of alternative sources of sustainable materials for technology may pose a threat to China’s rare earth metal monopoly. As more countries and companies invest in research and development of new materials, the dependency on China for these metals may decrease, potentially impacting their control over the market.

How is China’s Truancy with Rare Earth Metals Impacting the Market?

China’s truancy with minor metals & rare earths has created a significant impact on the market. As the world’s largest producer, China’s control over these resources can lead to supply disruptions and price volatility. This has prompted other countries to seek alternative sources and develop their own production capabilities.

How does China’s control over rare earth metals impact the supply for military equipment like F-35s?

China’s control over the us supply of rare earths has a significant impact on the production of military equipment like F-35s. With over 80% of the global supply of rare earth metals, China’s dominance can lead to potential supply chain disruptions, affecting the production and availability of critical defense equipment.

How is China’s Control of Rare Earth Metals Impacting the Supply Chain, and How Could Canadian Mining Companies Change This?

China’s control of rare earth metals has led to disruptions in the global supply chain. Canadian mining companies have the potential to change this by increasing their production and offering a more diversified source of these critical minerals. The involvement of a Canadian rare earth mining company could greatly impact the current supply chain dynamics.

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