After establishing a relationship with Japan on rare earth minerals late last year, India is now actively thinking of putting in place a multi-dimensional strategy to ensure a steady supply of these strategic materials in the future. The emphasis will be on extracting new materials necessary for newer technologies of the modern world.
Recently, some of the top bureaucrats in the Indian government met in New Delhi for a brainstorming session on this front. Last year, India had gravitated to Japan after the latter fell out with China over a diplomatic row. As reported by MetalMiner at the time, both nations had signed an agreement in November 2012, wherein Japan would import 4,100 tons of rare earths materials a year from India.
China, as we all know, controls the global supply of rare earth materials, which are crucial for strategic electronics and energy projects. The Indian meeting, said a report in the Deccan Herald, was to put in place a strategy to secure its own supply from industrial process and geological exploration.
The report said in addition to rare earths, the Indian government was also contemplating ways to derive new and reliable sources of a dozen-odd energy critical elements (ECE), which were fast becoming important for their requirement in next-gen technologies like solar cells, wind turbines and fuel cells.
Top officials of the Indian Space Research Organization, Atomic Energy Commission, and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and Defence Research and Development Organization attended the meeting.
It was at this meeting, say reports, that government-owned traditional mineral extraction and processing companies were requested to diversify into the production of rare earths. These include mining and metals companies like India’s largest aluminum producer National Aluminium Company Limited (Nalco), integrated copper producer Hindustan Copper Limited (HCL) and Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL). The government has assured these companies that it would back their efforts in whatever manner required.
About two years ago, the Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL), a government-held public sector unit under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), had set up its own strategy in extracting REEs. It had sought permission for mining from the government of Odisha, a state in the eastern part of India rich in rare earths. There’s a particular rare earth-rich strip on a coastal stretch at Bramhagiri in the Puri district of Odisha that the IREL was particularly eyeing.
The Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMDER), Hyderabad, a constituent unit of DAE, has conducted a survey and found huge deposits of rare earth minerals in this coastal stretch. Further, it had also been decided to increase the capacity of the Mining and Mineral Separation (MMS) plant of the Orissa Sands Complex (OSCOM), located in south Odisha from 220,000 tons to 470,000 tons. OSCOM was set up in 1984 to process the sand minerals such as ileminite, rutile, zircon and monazite.
India’s need for new and indigenous sources of these materials, said the report, was essential because China was playing hardball on the REE supply front. India’s strategy will revolve around REE-rich states like Odisha, Rajasthan and West Bengal, and also rely on exports from countries like Afghanistan (where it had recently send a delegation), and Ukraine.