back to article Tree-hugging Chinese throttle rare earth production

Bad news for the technology supply chain – China has decided to cut back on its mining of the rare earth minerals essential to the production of a vast range of hi-tech kit. Deputy IT minister, Su Bo, reportedly told an industry seminar in Xiamen that the decision was taken because China now wants to promote sustainability in …

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  1. Denarius Silver badge
    Meh

    already done

    some place called Afghanistan I believe.

    Should Russians restart research on mini-valve technology again?

    Only need caesium oxides then.

    On the upside, the number of muppets on phone while driving light trucks through traffic might drop

  2. Muckminded

    Coincident to US tariff on Chinese solar panels

    Probably unrelated, but good to see a sudden interest in environmental issues that happens to provide a price spike.

  3. Paul A. Walker
    Coat

    Su Bo

    Dreamed a dream of sustainability eh?

    I'll get my coat...

    1. frank ly
      Happy

      Re: Su Bo

      You beat me to it, with a much better post than the one I thought of.

      1. ChrisM

        Re: Su Bo

        Hairy Green Angel perhaps.....

        although that sounds like a very dodgy absinthe cocktail...

  4. John Hawkins
    Facepalm

    So what?

    They're just being good capitalists by maximising returns. Western countries would just give the stuff away at cost instead?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    that 97 per cent global share

    Is only market share, I think they have about 38% of the global supply of the so-call rare-earths.

    Australia has about a third of the world's supply too, I believe.

    https://encrypted.google.com/search?q=rare+earth+deposits+australia

    We're already ramping up production and CSIRO is collaborating with the US on new extraction processes.

    http://www.australianrareearths.com/

    If only we will actually have a government smart enough to make things using the resources instead of shipping them cheap by the ton for a quick buck, fat chance I know!

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      It depends a bit.

      Of the light rare earth metals, China has indeed a commanding position. However, of the heavy rare earth metals (which include the fun stuff used to make lithium batteries with), China has no significant market share and deposits have been in various places (the one I know best is in Canada, at a site which used to be a coal mine).

      Thus, to talk about "rare earth" market share is a mixed bag - you have to separate out the two to have any idea how much power they hold..

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dear China...

    Here's mud in your eye! (Deep Sea mud)

    http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/deep-sea-mud-possible-source-of-rare-earth-minerals.htm

    Somebody at Australian Geographic was ahead of the game in July 2011 :-)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meh...

    ..when we allow unrestricted food imports from 3rd world countries, therefore helping them to help themselves out of poverty, so we don't feel the need to send them food aid (to massage our own egos), then I'll agree that we can complain.

    Until then, Pot meet Kettle.

  8. Chuckl

    interesting that hack journalists are incapable of understanding that 'rare earth' elements are not rare, but actually exist in abundance all over the place. The 'problem' about which they oibsess is simply that only China can be bothered to extract them at the moment, because it's reasonably messy to do, and there's very little money in it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Indeed, and that is why its economical for china to do it less overhead on wages.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Foolish US Decision

    They closed their rare earth mines as it was cheaper to buy from China. OOps then what a surprise the Chinese corner the market then put the price up.

    1. Some Beggar

      Re: Foolish US Decision

      The US does still seem to be having a hard time accepting that Chairman Deng was better at unfettered capitalism than The Gipper.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Foolish US Decision

        It is very foolish when they are of huge national and strategic importance. Yes the US has resumed digging as they have realised China had them by the short and curlies.

        Just because it would be cheaper to manufacture Nimitz class aircraft carriers in China do you think for one second the Pentagon would allow it ?

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. simonjon
    Terminator

    "China is [forcing] manufacturers to locate their.. plants within its borders"

    Really?

    When was the last time that you bought electronics that DIDN'T carry the magic words "Made in China"?

    Even the Japanese and the Taiwanese (HTC etc) make most of their kit in PRC, and - electronics aside for the mo - even the 'proudly-Australian' impractical footwear brand Ugg Boots are made there.

    Interestingly, according to Brit scientist James Lovelock, the now-standard hazy-red sunsets being experienced in California are a direct result of the pollution particles being blown across the Pacific from Chinese factories.

  11. Tim Worstal

    Err, yes.

    That 97% is of current production, not proven reserves.

    And Lynas is opening an Oz mine which will be able to provide about 20% of world demand, Molycorp is reopening a California one with the same sort of volume. Silmet in Estonia has just been bought by Molycorp and they'll expand production there as well.

    And that's just proven reserves. In terms of potential reserves, well, REs like Ce and La are about as abundant as copper. And we produce millions of tonnes of copper a year but only about 120,000 tonnes of REs.

    This is a blip, a bubble, no more than that.

    Quite seriously I was offered an abandoned African RE mine this morning. For the cost of filing the documents to reopen it.

    If you want the point in the economic jargon the Chinese monopoly is a contestable monopoly. So, when they try to exploit that monopoly it gets contested and the monopoly fails.

    1. Fred Goldstein

      The ore is pretty common; refining has been the issue. China uses old, messy acid-based refining that causes huge waste problems, which they "solve" by laying waste to vast areas of semi-desert land, I think largely in Inner Mongolia. Newer, cleaner processes may be in store for the Mountain Pass, California mine recently reopened.

      What the RE industry needs is another Hall process, the discovery that made aluminum cheap. Alas, Neodymium, Samarium, Cerium and friends aren't so easy.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    For years people have complained about China's environmental squalor; but as soon as they look like they might be trying to clean up, the SAME people squeal about the lack of cheap resources/toys.

    Try going and living in one of their industrial cities for a few months, and then feel the same enthusiasm for cheap production methods.

    The commies beating the Yanks at capitalism, you gotta laugh!!!

    The flame is for all the filthy coal power stations they are trying to replace with CLEAN renewable power sources.

  13. disgruntled yank

    trees?

    Grab 'em by the trees, the hearts, minds, and attitudes toward tariffs & currency will follow.

  14. John A Blackley

    Production versus deposits

    According to the US Geological Survey in 2010, China possesses 37% of know deposits of rare earths (economic viability of recovery not taken into account).

    The rest of the world, thanks in part to their very own tree huggers, decided that it was less messy to buy from China than the nasty business of actually digging it up themselves.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oopsie

    Sorry about my previous post about CSIRO working with the US on separation, it was ANSTO!

    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/rare-element-commences-separation-testing-and-heavy-rare-earth-testing-2012-03-15?reflink=MW_news_stmp

    "Rare Element Resources Ltd. announces that it has entered into an agreement with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) to develop and test a process to produce separated rare earth (RE) products from concentrates derived from ore material at the Bear Lodge project, Wyoming."

  16. mhenriday
    FAIL

    Cough, splutter ?

    «Deputy IT minister, Su Bo, reportedly told an industry seminar in Xiamen that the decision was taken because China now wants to promote sustainability in its mining practices (cough, splutter).» May I ask what evidence you can adduce, Phil, to imply that Mr Su isn't at least as concerned with sustainablity in mining practices as your minister of the environment, in the event your government happens to have one and whoever he or she happens to be ? Or is evidence entirely unnecessary when writing articles for the Reg that deal with China ?...

    Henri

  17. MarkSelf
    FAIL

    Entirely reasonable

    Despite the ironic tone of the article it is entirely reasonable for China to overhaul their safety and environental regulations. Rare earths are not in fact scarce and as many posters have already pointed out, the 97% is *market* share. Mining the material can cause acid drainage, and leave great tracts of wasteland if not properly rehabilitated. At present China is just digging it up and sellling it - and countries like Japan and the US are no doubt pleased with the arrangement, because it's cheap and it's not in thier backyard. China's practices if left unchanged will leave a legacy for the next generations to come.

    In light of this the tone of the article is deplorable.

    Besides which there are alternatives to using rare earths - they cost fractionally more hence they are not used.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old News

    China announced that they planned to do this to drive up costs in 2009. Why so surprised?

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