News of further initiatives has emerged at the start of January 2013 to find secure supplies outside China of the rare earth metals that are so important to the future of clean technology and the manufacture consumer electronics.
A Polish mining group specialising currently in copper and silver has announced plans to purchase exploration licences in a number of countries in order to explore for Rare Earth Materials Supplier.
The chief executive of KGHM Polska Mied said the intention was to become a “multi metal” company and that the group felt it had a responsibility to supply the Polish and European markets.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has granted $120 million towards the setting up of a new research institute the Critical Materials Institute (CMI) at the Ames Laboratory in Iowa. The new research facility will bring together academics, researchers, four DOE national laboratories and private sector companies to look at ways of making rare earth metal supplies more secure domestically.
Therefore it is likely to focus on improving mining and production processes, researching how rare minerals can be used more efficiently and on how they can be recovered and recycled more effectively from discarded products.
Now that Lynas, one of Australia’s biggest rare earth metal mining companies, has now started processing ores at its new plant in Malaysia following a lengthy battle with environmental activists who appealed to the Malaysian High Court to have the temporary licence for the plant withdrawn, Australia is being predicted to become one of the world’s major suppliers. More deposits are likely to be mined in the country, which is estimated to have more than 6% of available global supplies.
The most recent entrant into the ongoing search is the West Indian island of Jamaica, whose Science, Technology, Energy & Mining Minister, recently announced to the country’s Parliament that Japanese researchers believed there were high concentrations of rare earths in the residue (known as tailings) from its ailing bauxite mining industry.
The Jamaican minister reported that the researchers, from Japan’s Nippon Light Metal Co. Ltd. also believed that rare-earth elements could be efficiently extracted from the red mud, as it is called. The country’s environmental and planning agency has already approved a pilot programme to examine the potential of a commercial operation but it has yet to be examined by other government departments. Nippon Light Metal Co has agreed to invest $3 million in the pilot project.
Japan was perhaps the leader in 2012 in the search for other sources of rare earth metals after China announced reduced quotas for the global supplies of rare earths early in the year, prompting complaints to the World Trade Organisation from Japan, the USA and the EU. China was then supplying approximately 97% of global supplies.
This encouraged the search for other sources of the crucial minerals with potential deposits identified in Greenland and parts of Africa, and supply and processing agreements being signed between Japan and companies in Kazakhstan and India.
The situation has also stimulated initiatives to recycle the metals from discarded products such as electric vehicles and consumer electronics in Japan and in the EU.