China Moves on Rare Earths a Threat to Global Supplies

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"China has been fighting hard to maintain its virtual rare earths global production monopoly. . ."

Australian junior miner Arafura Resources (ASX:ARU), which is developing the Nolans phosphate-hosted rare earths deposit in the country's Northern Territory, is making great play of a draft report submitted by China's Central Ministry of Industry and Information Technology calling for a significant tightening of China's rare earths export market. Currently China dominates, producing about 95% - 98% of global supply, and any tightening could have a dramatic effect on industries that use rare earth elements, which are incorporated into many modern technological devices, including superconductors, high-flux magnets, electronic polishers, refining catalysts and hybrid car components. With a huge increase in hybrid car production likely in the years ahead, control of the rare earths market may be vital to global advances in this type of technology.

The Chinese draft report, entitled Rare Earths Industry Development Plan 2009‐2015, has been submitted to the China State Council for review and implementation in 2010, and outlines plans to restrict Chinese administration of rare earth quotas, totally banning the export of some rare earths and consolidating a large number of Chinese rare earth facilities.

The imposition of these dramatic controls is a reflection of the vital strategic nature of rare earths. Rare earths are vital materials in energy efficiency and environmental-pollutant reduction schemes.

If China is to make inroads on its environmental standards and reduce pollution levels, rare earths will play a pivotal role. This is a signal that China's rare earths are for its own development, and that current recoverable reserves may not meet their own needs.

The report outlines plans to impose a total ban on the export of some rare earths materials. These include Dysprosium (Dy), Terbium (Tb) and Yttrium (Yt). Dysprosium is a critical material used in the enhancement of magnets in the electric systems of hybrid and electric vehicles.

China has been fighting hard to maintain its virtual rare earths global production monopoly. But, with such supply dominance, China can also control the price and there are fears that to maintain its position China could always release sufficient to the markets at a low enough price to make some of these new developments economically unattractive.

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