India Ramps Up Rare Earth Production

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Commodities, Global Trade

India may have decided to increase production of rare earth elements (REE) following recent changes in the field.

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Though way behind market leader China, India is the second-largest producer of rare earths with a production of 2,800 tons per year. China produces 105,000 tons. But India is still ahead of other REE producing nations such as Australia.

There are many reasons for India to ramp up production, the rapidly changing complexities of this sector being one of them. Of late, India’s imports of REE metals has gone up, clearly underlining the fact that its reliance on them is increasing. Then, the turn of the new year brought in a new twist with China deciding to end its decade-old quota restrictions on rare earth exports such as tungsten and molybdenum, as reported by MetalMiner.

Outside of the traditional use for rare earth metals and alloys, a major chunk of which is in defense, there’s a huge market blooming for the Internet-fueled consumer electronics including PCs, mobile devices and even smart TVs. Indian analysts say this is a major growth market in Asia, and what is needed to keep the momentum going for REE metals.

The renewed interest in RE is perhaps the reason why a state-level industrial promotional agency, the Industrial Development Corporation of Orissa Limited (Idcol), and Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL), last week, decided to go ahead with a joint venture (JV) for the extraction of rare earth minerals from the beach sand along the 470-km long Odisha coastline.

About $72 million will be invested to establish the new plant, which will be close to IREL’s existing plant.

IDCOL has applied to the provincial government for the grant of mining lease license. Initially, the plan is to mine over an area of about 1,257 hectares. The IDCOL said as per one estimate, the reserve here is over 100 million tons of beach sand heavy minerals which remain mostly untapped.

The project has already been discussed with some of the leading scientists of the country.

IREL has vast experience in the mining and separation of heavy minerals like limonite, monazite, zircon, rutile, garnet and sillimanite from beach sand, so also the production of rare earth and thorium compounds.

India has an estimated reserve of over 3 million tons of rare earths, and the new plant will add to its domestic production capacity. Mining should start within two years.

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