Our Rare Earths MMI held steady at 17 this month. This is not news to anyone who has followed RE prices for any extended period of time as the trend line for this sub-index has remained markedly flat in this bearish market and even in better times for commodities.
REs enjoyed some movement in 2011 during the China-Japan RE price struggle, but the sub-index has remained flat from the time we started tracking the MMI in 2012. The magnets, phosphors and other high-tech elements just have not shown any real
Lately, RE producers are either up for sale out of bankruptcy court, as in the case of Molycorp, Inc., or struggling under heavy debt loads as they are undercut by Chinese producers who don’t have any of the set-up costs of western miners.
However, if a recent study is to be believed, that could all change dramatically. A new study, Popular Science reports, shows it might be possible to extract RE elements from coal in the U.S. by rinsing discarded coal in a chemical solution.
“Essentially, REEs are sticking to the surface of molecules found in coal, and we use a special solution to pluck them out,” says Sarma Pisupati, an author of the study. “We experimented with many solvents to find one that is both inexpensive and environmentally friendly.”
Chinese Mining Crackdown
China is also stepping up efforts to restrict illegal mining and exporting of rare earths by setting up a system to certify the origin of supplies from the country. Beijing is also poised to impose a bunch of new environmental regulations including green export certificates and new taxes that are based on the value of the minerals, rather than on volume as is the case at present.
New processes and better policing of exports could help this index see some price recovery later this years. Figures from the China Rare Earth Industry recently showed that about 90% of China’s RE producers are currently operating at a loss.
Actual Rare Earths Prices
99% Pure Chinese Yttria fell from $4,299.82 a metric ton last month to $4,083.92 this month, a drop of 5%. Neodymium fell from $49,140.80 a metric ton last month to $48,401.98 this month, a drop 1.5%.