A wholly owned Government of India mining enterprise, KIOCL Ltd., has made public its intention of setting up a rare earths joint venture project with the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) in India’s southern state of Kerala.
The Union Ministry of Steel, which administers both companies, is said to be involved in the talks on the project. Though still on the drawing board, the plan envisages including the Kerala state government as one of the partners. These could be the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation and Kerala Mineral Development Corporation.
A report in the Hindu Businessline quoted an unnamed senior official of KIOCL (formerly Kudremukh Iron Ore Ltd.) as saying the company had expressed its initial interest in the project along with SAIL.
If the project comes through, India will see the setting up of a new REE plant after a gap of about three years. India is one of the top five producers of rare earth elements in the world, despite having lesser reserves compared to some of the other countries like Russia and the US, but its output is nothing compared to its neighboring country China, which produces as much as 90 percent of the world’s total rare earths.
Rare earths are a class of minerals—which include cerium, neodymium, lanthanum, yttrium and dysprosium—that have properties that make them very important for use in the electronics industry. The rare earths market is now estimated at US $1 billion a year, and getting bigger.
Recently, the minister of state in the prime minister’s office, V. Narayanasamy, told the lower house in parliament, in reply to a question, that no REE material occurring as an independent mineral had been mined by Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL), a company wholly owned by the government, during the last three years. India’s foray into the REE business had started with the setting up of the IREL.