Monday, May 9, 2011

More than You Ever Wanted to Know About the Rare Earth Mining/Refining Business (MCP; REE; AVL)

Back in January we reposted an Oct. 2010 piece that linked to an excellent piece from MIT: "Repost: Hard Truths About the Rare Earth Element Business (MCP; REE; AVL.TO;; LYSCF: REMX)".
I thought that was the mother of all overviews but this article by Jack Lifton at Technology Metals Research tops it:

In Xanadu Did Goldman Sachs Decree A Rare Earths Surplus For All To See
I guess that there’s no need now to worry about the future supply of the rare-earth metals. Earlier today the Wall Street Journal reported, in an article entitled “Rare Earths Grow Less Rare“, that Goldman Sachs says that although supplies will remain tight in 2011 and 2012 and prices will remain high, we can be assured (by Goldman Sachs analysts) that the rare earth supply shortage situation will end in 2013 as new supplies come on stream from outside of China.
I sincerely wonder if this is even good nonsense.
With the exception of the fluid cracking catalyst manufacturing industry, which uses chemical compounds of the rare earths produced early in the rare-earth refining process, the overwhelming majority of end users of the rare earths use and require high-purity metals and alloys of the rare earths for their products.
The only three companies today producing significant quantities outside of China, of high-purity metals or alloys, or both, are:
  1. Molycorp, via the recently acquired operations in Estonia (from Silmet) and Arizona (from Santoku America);
  2. Great Western Mineral Group, via its wholly owned UK subsidiary, Less Common Metals, Ltd.; and
  3. Japan’s Santoku, based in Kobe, Japan.
The feed stock for all of these operations, other than the Estonian one, comes from China. The high-purity-metals and -alloys capacity of all three combined, is less than 5% of the world’s total demand.

A number of junior-mining ventures have announced that they will be producing “rare earths” in 2011-15. The mining analysts do not seem to know or recognize that the production of rare earths is not a well-defined phrase. Mines produce ore concentrates. Most so-called “metal” mines then chemically extract the metal values, as chemical compounds, from the mechanically produced ore concentrates. Different metal miners then traditionally do their own thing, so to speak, with the chemical solutions containing the extracted metals.
Copper miners, for example, typically refine their ore concentrates to the metallic state. The quality (grade) of the copper metal produced is determined by the extent and capability of the processing undertaken by the miner. Even those miners of copper who produce high-purity copper “cathodes” by electro-refining are not normally the producers of the final use products, such as wire rod, sheet, and plate. These are produced, for example in the case of electrical conducting wire, by a specialized industry (for example, a ‘wire’ industry), which itself sells only fabricated copper forms to manufacturers who make such devices as electric motors and generators and wiring harnesses for motor vehicles. I can’t think of a vertically integrated manufacturer,for example, of electric motors, i.e. one that mines copper, refines and purifies it, fabricates industrial forms, and builds electric motors. If a reader knows of one please let me know....MUCH MORE