Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wind: "World faces hi-tech crunch as China eyes ban on rare metal exports"

This is a Big, BIG deal. It is written by a very connected journalist, The Telegraph's International Business Editor, our pal, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. From The Telegraph:

Beijing is drawing up plans to prohibit or restrict exports of rare earth metals that are produced only in China and play a vital role in cutting edge technology, from hybrid cars and catalytic converters, to superconductors, and precision-guided weapons.

A draft report by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology
has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium,
thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and
lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year,
far below global needs.

China mines over 95pc of the world’s rare earth minerals, mostly in Inner Mongolia. The move to hoard reserves is the clearest sign to date that the global struggle for diminishing resources is shifting into a new phase. Countries may find it hard to obtain key materials at any price.

Alistair Stephens, from Australia’s rare metals group Arafura, said his
contacts in China had been shown a copy of the draft -- `Rare Earths Industry
Devlopment Plan 2009-2015’. Any decision will be made by China’s State Council.

“This isn’t about the China holding the world to ransom. They are saying we
need these resources to develop our own economy and achieve energy efficiency,
so go find your own supplies”, he said.

Mr Stephens said China had put global competitors out of business in the early 1990s by flooding the market, leading to the closure of the biggest US rare earth mine at Mountain Pass in California - now being revived by Molycorp Minerals.
New technologies have since increased the value and strategic importance of these metals, but it will take years for fresh supply to come on stream from deposits in Australia, North America, and South Africa. The rare earth family are hard to find, and harder to extract.

Mr Stephens said Arafura’s project in Western Australia produces
terbium, which sells for $800,000 a tonne. It is a key ingredient in low-energy
light-bulbs. China needs all the terbium it produces as the country switches
wholesale from tungsten bulbs to the latest low-wattage bulbs that cut power
costs by 40pc.

No replacement has been found for neodymium that enhances the power of magnets at high heat and is crucial for hard-disk drives, wind turbines, and the electric motors of hybrid cars. Each Toyota Prius uses 25 pounds of rare earth elements....MORE

HT: Foreign Policy's Passport blog.
Our prior posts on the rare earth metals:

Wind: Why rare earth metals matter

Wind: So Why the Interest in Rare Earths?

China tightens grip on rare earths

Wind: "China, Japan on collision course over rare-earth metals"

With a Name Like Inner Mongolia Baotou Steel Rare-Earth Hi-Tech Co., it has to be good ( 600111:Shanghai)

Wind: China to support three domestic enterprises for rare earth development. And:
Baotou Steel Rare-Earth net loss hits $9.83 mln in H1