China Makes Rare Earth Even Rarer

Top Quote Analysts at Asian Green Technology Holdings, Ltd. explore the rare earth situation and the impact of China's change in export quotas and the new guidelines set up. End Quote
  • (1888PressRelease) May 25, 2011 - China's State Council has issued a national guideline to promote sustainable and healthy development of the nation's rare earth Industry. China's exports of rare-earth ores and metals in the first four months this year rose 33% on year to 18,614 metric tons, even as Beijing orders drastic cuts to the country's rare-earth exports. The data supplied by Hong Kong-based Economic Information Agency suggests that even as the government has repeatedly vowed to crack down on illegal mining and tighten control over supply, its reach on reducing actual exports may be more limited.

    In a statement, the commerce ministry announced that iron alloys containing more than 10% of rare earths will fall under the export quota starting Friday. The guideline says special campaigns will be launched to crack down on illegal mining activities and excessive production, and greater efforts will be made to combat practices that pollute the environment and damage the ecology. The campaigns will also target illegal exports and smuggling of rare earths.

    Rare earths minerals are exotic minerals with strange names such cerium, dysprosium, erbium, europium, gadolinium, holmium, lanthanum, lutetium, and neodymium. Rare earth minerals are vital materials used in the manufacture of high-tech items. Important items manufactured using rare earths include most consumer electronics, hybrid car batteries, powerful magnets, weapons guidance systems, and most renewable energy technologies. China is the nation that controls the world market; this is largely due to Western mining standards that make it impossible to compete with China in this environmentally hazardous process. The Chinese are believed to own one-third of the world's reserves of these strategically important minerals and produce more than 90% of world production. In addition, China plans to build a strategic reserve stockpile of rare earths. This is good news for those smart investors who are already positioned in this thin market sector but it is extremely troubling for those manufacturers who depend on reliable, affordable, supplies. With world-wide demand soaring prices of these vital must-have minerals will continue to sky-rocket regardless of China's quotas and guidelines.

    The Chinese shift in rare earth mineral policies has prompted many solutions to the scarcity of this vital resource. The Japanese have already set a goal of reducing the amount of rare earths imported by one third, with the country now seeking to lead the world in rare earth recycling. Last year, a diplomatic spat between Japan and China led the world's largest supplier of Rare Earth Elements (REEs) to suspend exports of Rare Earth oxides and other critical metals to its largest single client. China, which mines more than 90 percent of the world's rare earth, has exported 6,000 tons, or 49.8%, of its total rare earth to Japan. While recycling is very expensive, the government of Japan has been instrumental in getting the recycling of REs underway and has both instituted subsidies and facilitated inter-industry cooperation.

    The Japanese Ministry of Trade has provided a third of a billion dollars in subsidies, which has been used as seed money for some 160 projects worth $1.34 billion. That number will increase as the Japanese government is offering another 8.9 billion yen in subsidies in the next fiscal year. Japan is also investing heavily in research. Scientists at the University of Tokyo recently succeeded in separating REEs from neodymium magnets through a new, much cheaper recycling process. The Japanese have set a goal of reducing the amount of REs imported by its domestic industry by one third which is a step in the right direction towards reduced dependence on Chinese minerals.

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