How China Ending its Rare Earth Export Quota Helps India

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With nations like Japan making alternate arrangements, over the years, China’s share of the world’s rare earth elements had dropped to about 90%.

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As 2014 ended, Avinash Chander, Scientific Advisor to India’s Defense Minister, lamented that China had stopped the supply of even basic metals like tungsten in addition to rare earth metals.

The impact of China’s recent decision to remove export quotas on rare earths is now being studied by India to understand its full implications.

Just late last month, China’s biggest producer of light earth metals, Baogang Rare Earth Group (BREG) became a dominant global player after merging with 5 smaller companies.

In the last few years, even as a rejuvenated India awakened to the myriad uses of rare earths, it had found it difficult to fill the gap left by China. According to this report in The Times of India, the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMDER) continued its exploration for Uranium and rare earth metals in central India. But even though the overall quantum of the uranium ore (uranium oxide) in India had reached a total of 2,14,158 tons, most of it was not of very good quality.

In mid-2014, India’s state-owned National Aluminum Co Ltd (NALCO) had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with another public sector company, Indian Rare Earths Ltd (IREL), to jointly set up a titanium slag plant. This plant would be helpful for India’s space program.

In August, India said it was commissioning a plant to produce up to 5,000 tons of rare earths a year, which could help it contribute about 5% to the global supply of the metals used in cameras, cars, iPhones and wind turbines. The plant in the State of Odisha would produce rare earth oxides by processing monazite from beach sand.

The author, Sohrab Darabshaw, contributes an Indian perspective on industrial metals markets to MetalMiner.

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