China and Rare Earths

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Border_Reiver, Nov 18, 2010.

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  1. Well it looks like the truly inscrutable Chinese have really succeeded with a long term flanker here … Linky ….

    And a key quote ..

    China, which currently produces about 97 percent of the world's supply, began cornering that market a decade ago, when low prices made mining for these minerals unappealing financially for Western companies.

    These Rare Earth Metals are required for high efficiency Motors in such as Electric Cars and Generators in Wind / Wave Turbines . The Green revolution could be under real threat here .... the Nation that controls Rare Earths has indeed a lot of clout in the future
  2. There was an interesting article back in December 2009 about getting REE's from industrial waste stream

    Valuable rare-earth raw materials extracted from industrial waste stream - University of Leeds

    Published Tuesday 15th December 09

    Fierce competition over raw materials for new green technologies could become a thing of the past, thanks to a discovery by scientists from the University of Leeds.

    Researchers from Leeds' Faculty of Engineering have discovered how to recover significant quantities of rare-earth oxides, present in titanium dioxide minerals. The rare-earth oxides, which are indispensable for the manufacture of wind turbines, energy-efficient lighting, and hybrid and electric cars, are extracted or reclaimed simply and cheaply from the waste materials of another industrial process.

    If taken to industrial scale, the new process could eventually shift the balance of power in global supply, breaking China's near monopoly on these scarce but crucial resources. China currently holds 95 per cent of the world's reserves of rare earth metals in a multi-billion dollar global market in which demand is growing steadily.

    "These materials are also widely used in the engines of cars and electronics, defence and nuclear industries(1). In fact they cut across so many leading edge technologies, the additional demand for device related applications is set to outstrip supply," said Professor Animesh Jha, who led the research at Leeds.

    "There is a serious risk that technologies that can make a major environmental impact could be held back through lack of the necessary raw materials - but hopefully our new process, which is itself much 'greener' than current techniques, could make this less likely."

    Despite their name, the fifteen rare earth metals occur more commonly within the Earth's crust than precious metals such as gold and platinum, but their oxides are rarely found in sufficient concentrations to allow for commercial mining and purification. They are, however, found relatively frequently alongside titanium dioxide - a versatile mineral used in everything from cosmetics and medicines to electronics and the aerospace industries, which Professor Jha has been researching for the last eight years.

    The Leeds breakthrough came as Professor Jha and his team were fine-tuning a patented industrial process they have developed to extract higher yields of titanium dioxide and refine it to over 99 per cent purity. Not only does the technology eliminate hazardous wastes, cut costs and carbon dioxide emissions, the team also discovered they can extract significant quantities of rare earth metal oxides as co-products of the refining process(2).

    "Our recovery rate varies between 60 and 80 per cent, although through better process engineering we will be able to recover more in the future," says Professor Jha. "But already, the recovery of oxides of neodymium (Nd), cerium (Ce) and lanthanum (La), from the waste products - which are most commonly found with titanium dioxide minerals - is an impressive environmental double benefit."

    The research has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the former DTI's Sustainable Technology Programme and industrial sponsor, Cristal Global in US (formerly Millennium Inorganic Chemicals) through a PhD studentship for team member Graham Cooke.

    Notes to editors:

    (1) Rare earth metals are a group of 15 chemically similar elements, grouped separately in the periodic table, known as lanthanides. Their unique properties - catalytic, chemical, electrical, metallurgical, nuclear, magnetic and optical - have led to their use in an extraordinarily wide range of applications, including: automotive catalysts; flints for lighters; pigments for glass and ceramics; compounds for polishing glass; miniature nuclear batteries; superconductors and miniature magnets.

    Rare earth metals are also important in the defence industry, where their application includes: anti-missile defence, aircraft parts, communications systems, electronic countermeasures, jet engines, rockets, missile guidance systems and space-based satellite power.

    (source: Rare Earth Metals Not So Rare but Valuable -- Seeking Alpha)

    (2) The amount of rare-earth metal oxides available through Professor Jha's patented process is dependent on the origin of titanium dioxide minerals, and can vary from less than 1% to several per cent.
  3. Buy Kenmare Resources stocks. They are titanium ore miners and their stocks are near rock bottom at the moment.
  4. Coal is the future!:)
  5. It has 97% of the current production not because 97% of rare earth deposits are in China but because China is the nation that went looking for them on a big and therefore cheap scale.

    With the current increase in their own consumption and the restrictions on their rare earth exports, all the other deposits in all the other countries that have them just became commercially viable.
  6. Wordsmith

    Wordsmith LE Book Reviewer

    Check out rhenium.

    Rhenium - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    It's 6% by weight of the turbine blades in the F-22 and F-35 engines (and currently comes at a cool $10,000 Kg).

    Its probably the most strategic of the rare earth/transition metals. China is slowly cornering the markets by keeping the world price just below the level it would be economic to bring the bulk of western production on-stream. If they start to restrict supply, there are an awful lot of strategic industries in the west that are in deep shit.

  7. Temporarily, unless the laws of supply and demand miraculously cease to work.
  8. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    The West is suffering from lack of rare earth right now because we failed to develope the fields when it was not economical to do so. Within a few years, countris outside of China can ramp up production to surpass that of China. The stuff isn;t that rare, there's just too few mining facilites in place and they take time to build.

    China may yet come to regret hogging their own supplies.
  9. Why? They need it for their own economy and in particular their sustainable energy industry. They're making a massive push to become a world leader in that field and they can hardly do that if their flogging the key ingredient abroad, now can they?
  10. Isnt the answer simply for a few western/asian/everyone but china goverments to make some investments/subsidies to enable non chinese production?

    How big is the market in dollar/euro terms?
  11. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    If the US and every other country devlopes their own mines and get their own rare earth, in addition to developing technologies that use cheaper materials just as effectively, China gains nothing. It'll be pratting about with Betamax while everyone else goes VHS, and like I said, it will serve them right.
  12. Wordsmith

    Wordsmith LE Book Reviewer

    I have more experience than virtually anyone in the UK in the technicalities of producing tungsten. I have calcined the ammonium paratungstate (APT), reduced the resulting oxide to metal powder, sintered the metal powder to metal bar and swaged and drawn it into rod and wire. I have produced tungsten/silver, tungsten/copper and high density alloy in their varying forms. There are few tungsten operations I do not have experience of in the 20 years (on and off) I worked in the industry.

    Yet I'm no longer working with tungsten. Why - because the Chinese systematically destroyed the bulk of Western tungsten production. They did that by systematically selling tungsten products at a loss into Western markets until they forced the bulk of Western producers out of business. Now 80% of the worlds tungsten products come out of China. At one time I saw finished products coming out of China below the cost I could buy the raw materials at.

    So don't assume that China plays by Western rules of supply and demand.

  13. Might be looking in the wrong direction here, folks.
    Yes, the Chinese currently have 95%+ of production, and we let them because we (the rest of the world) didn't want the mess in our own back yards.
    It's also true that in about 2 years, new production or mothballed cpability is likely to come back on stream.
    The really interesting point is that China is actually looking to reduce production. They are consolidating the number of producers, and closing a lot of smaller, dirty mines. The environmental damage has got so critical, they can't afford it any more. Also, their stocks are declining at a startling rate.
    Tighter standards mulled for rare earths

    HOHHOT - Chinese authorities are considering tightening pollution standards for rare earth mining, according to sources at a rare earth production base in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

    "We heard the new standards will be strict, which will force uncompetitive miners out of the industry," said Zhang Zhong, general manager of Inner Mongolia Baotou Steel Rare-Earth (Group) Hi-Tech Co Ltd, the country's biggest rare earth producer.

    Zhang said the new regulation will increase the production cost of rare earth minerals and may raise the price of Chinese rare earth exports.

    Yang Wanxi, a government adviser involved in drafting the regulation, said the new standards aim to upgrade production techniques.

    Experts said the permissible amount of the pollutant ammonia nitrogen per liter of production waste water will be lowered from 25 to 15 milligrams, said Yang, a rare earth specialist with the government of Baotou city in Inner Mongolia.

    He said the experts also suggested that the government consider eliminating producers whose annual production capacity is less than 8,000 tons of mixed rare earth minerals.

    Yang said the draft regulation has been filed with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which is canvassing opinion within the industry on the proposals.

    Rare earth minerals, a class of 17 chemical elements, have become increasingly important for the manufacturing of high-tech products like flat-screen monitors, electric car batteries, wind turbines and missiles.

    But mining rare earth minerals damages the environment.

    Premier Wen Jiabao said at the sixth China-EU Business Summit in Brussels in October that China, which has 97 percent of the world's supply of rare earth minerals, is looking for a sustainable method of extraction.

    He said proper control and regulations are important and China will not close the market.

    China stopped issuing new rare earth mining licenses in 2006 and has closed hundreds of small mines.

    The government in September announced draft guidelines for the industry's next five years of development, which encouraged mergers and acquisitions in the sector.

    The guidelines aim to cut the number of rare earth firms from 90 to 20 by 2015.

    and Rare earth's surging price | China business news
    ...Other countries with ample reserves, such as the United States, Russia and Australia sealed their mines out of consideration for environment production and labor costs.

    The only rare earth mine in the US, the Molycorp complex at Mountain Pass in California, was at one time the leading producer. That was before it leaked faintly radioactive fluid into a nearby desert in the late 1990s. It was closed for good in 2002.

    China’s rare earth deposits dropped to 27 million tons by the end last year, compared to 43 million in 1996. Although the central government has banned rare earth green ore and 41 rare earth products from being used in processing trade, industry experts estimate the nation’s reserves may still only last another 15 to 20 years...
  14. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    They could very well be banking on the idea that they're being 'played' by the west to some degree. The west buys Chinese stocks of rare earth metals, and China uses them until they run out, at which point, the West turns the tables and holds Chinese manufacturing to ransom with Western supplies which haven't yet been depleted.
  15. I was listening to something on radio 4 that said the name rare earths is quite misleading, they are not particularly rare, it's just that the Chineses have been digging them up for us.