Articles in Category: Minor Metals

The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) picked up three points, rising to a June MMI value of 22.

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China’s Rare Earths

In light of last month’s developments in the long-running U.S.-China trade talks, MetalMiner’s Stuart Burns delved into what could be a big play for China.

Last year, the U.S. left rare earths off a wide-ranging list of Chinese imports to be targeted by tariffs (as part of the U.S.’s Section 301 probe), as the U.S. — and the rest of the world — depends on China for rare earths.

Last month, the U.S. raised tariffs on $200 billion in imports from China and China responded with retaliatory tariffs. On the heels of the tit-for-tat and President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to a rare earth magnet facility, some commentators are wondering if China could put the squeeze on the rare earths market.

“China is rattling the saber ever so softly to say that it may be more exposed to general trade on a balance of payments position – China exports more to the U.S. than the U.S. exports to China — but the U.S. (and the rest of the Western world, as it happens) is uniquely exposed to China’s control of not just rare earth elements, but the whole supply chain,” Burns wrote. “That supply chain includes everything from mining through refining to manufacturing of myriad components used in high-tech applications including from electric vehicles, cellphones, laptops, missiles and fighter jets.”

According to CNBC, China’s exports of rare earths dropped in May to 3,639.5 metric tons, down from 4,329 metric tons in April.

The rare earths market is notorious for its volatility; as such, it remains to be seen if the drop in exports is a calculated move or a one-off blip. As trade talks between the U.S. and China continue to take shape, market watchers will want to keep an eye on China’s export levels.

Malaysia PM: ‘We’ll Have to Renew’ Lynas License

On May 30, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters, with respect to the ongoing discussions regarding Australian rare earths miner Lynas Corp’s license to operate in the country, “We think we’ll have to renew the license,” according to a report in the Straits Times.

Lynas, the largest rare earths miner outside of China, has battled regulatory challenges in Malaysia related to waste disposal. Disposal of two forms of waste at the miner’s Malaysian facility has been the focus of the ongoing saga, as the miner’s license to operate in the country expires in September.

The miner has previously said it would not be able to comply with the government’s conditions vis-a-vis waste disposal in the required time frame.

“We welcome the Prime Minister’s comments acknowledging the importance of the continuation of the Lynas operations in Malaysia,” Lynas said in a prepared statement May 31. “We will update the market as we receive further clarification from the Malaysian government.”

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

Chinese yttrium fell 2.4% month over month to $32.58/kilogram as of June 1. Terbium oxide rose 1.3% to $529.26/kilogram. Neodymium oxide skyrocketed this past month, jumping 27.7% to $50,681.30/mt.

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Europium oxide fell 13.7% to $33.30/kilogram. Dysprosium oxide rose 29.8% to $285.99/kilogram.

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Cast your mind back nearly 10 years — for those of you in the metal business at that time, the market was briefly all about rare earths. For the first time in decades, all anyone could talk about was the West’s vulnerability to the supply of this misnamed group of highly important strategic metals and their salts.

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In fact, so excited did the manufacturing sector become that it spurred a whole raft of startup specialists as consultants, analysts and research bodies as metal prices peaked in the summer of 2011 and then gradually fell back.

Not wanting to sound like the harbinger of bad news, but we could be in for a repeat performance if the significance of President Xi Jinping’s visit last week to a Chinese rare earth magnet factory in the province of Jiangxi is looked at with the seriousness Beijing intends.

China is rattling the saber ever so softly to say that it may be more exposed to general trade on a balance of payments position – China exports more to the U.S. than the U.S. exports to China — but the U.S. (and the rest of the Western world, as it happens) is uniquely exposed to China’s control of not just rare earth elements, but the whole supply chain. That supply chain includes everything from mining through refining to manufacturing of myriad components used in high-tech applications including from electric vehicles, cellphones, laptops, missiles and fighter jets.

Source: The Telegraph

An intriguing article in the subscription-only section of The Telegraph newspaper detailed the long-term risk the West has been running for years on rare earths elements (REE) and how REE could be the next flashpoint in an escalating trade war between China and the U.S.

The U.S. is nowhere near self-sufficient in REE, with even ores mined at California’s Mountain Pass shipped to China for processing and Lynas Corp’s proposed U.S.-based processing plant in Texas still years away from shipping a kilogram of refined metal. The post suggests China does not even have to announce an embargo of exports — it could close down selected parts of the U.S. supply chain by restricting supply to any number of component suppliers in China or shutting down a supplier on “environmental grounds.”

With the U.S. reliant on Chinese REE for whole components of U.S. manufacturing (examples cited range from simple car starters to chunks of aircraft), which are pre-finished in China using rare earths before shipping to the U.S.

Arguably, the military-industrial complex is even more exposed than the private sector.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighters need the thermal protection of rare earth coatings. Hellfire missiles, the Aegis Spy-1 radar and the sights of Abrams M1 tank all rely on rare earths. So do precision-guided weapons, the post’s list goes on, yet the White House and, indeed, successive U.S. administrations have been strangely sanguine about this vulnerability that covers not just the processing of ore to refined metals, but the infrastructure to use those refined metals and salts in a wide range of applications in the early stages of multiple supply chains.

Many, if not all, of those roads lead to China.

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Maybe President Donald Trump should have used some of his brief time in Japan devising solutions to this shared problem with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe rather than watching Sumo wrestling and playing golf.

The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) held flat this month for a May value of 19.

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Lynas Saga Continues in Malaysia

As we’ve noted in previous installments of the Rare Earths MMI, Australian rare earths miner Lynas Corp. continues to deal with regulatory challenges at its Malaysia operations.

Lynas, the largest miner of rare earths outside of China, is facing two conditions from the Malaysian government regarding the renewal of its license to operate in the country (which expires in September 2019).

The conditions from the Malaysian government related to disposal of two forms of industrial waste.

“We also continue to engage in ongoing discussions with the government to seek to resolve the remaining issues related to the pre-conditions for Lynas’ licence renewal, as detailed further below,” the company said in its Q1 earnings report. “We have restated our commitment to Malaysia, to being a valuable contributor to the economy and to playing a vital role in supporting the development of Malaysia’s 4.0 Industries.”

Tensions have picked up after comments from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad last month.

“So what we have done is we have opened up the business to other people, and there are other companies willing to buy up or somehow or other acquire Lynas, they have given us a promise that in future before sending the raw material to Malaysia they will clean it up first, they will crack it and decontaminate it in some way with regard to radioactivity, so that when the raw material comes here, the volume is less and the waste from that raw material is not dangerous to anybody,” the prime minister said.

Lynas said it had reached out to the Malaysian government for clarification regarding the prime minister’s comments.

Meanwhile, last month two groups of protestors, representing Malaysian environmental groups and Lynas workers, raised their voices on the issue.

According to a Reuters report, members from each group provided statements to government representatives, with the group representing environmental interests calling for the suspension of Lynas’ license, while Lynas workers touted the plant’s role as a source of jobs.

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

The yttrium price fell 0.4% month over month to $33.39/kilogram as of May 1. The terbium oxide price rose 0.6% to $468.21/kilogram.

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Neodymium oxide plunged 8.9% to $39,698.10/mt. Europium oxide dipped 0.4% to $38.59/kilogram. Dysprosium oxide jumped 0.6% to $220.38/kilogram.

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The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) picked up one point, rising to a value of 19.

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Lynas Considers Initial Ore Processing at Home Amid Pressure in Malaysia

Australian rare-earths miner Lynas Corp., as we’ve noted in previous Rare Earths MMI reports, has been facing regulatory pressure in Malaysia of late.

The Malaysian government has issued two conditions for renewal of the miner’s license in the country, which expires in September, related to disposal of two types of waste. Last month, Lynas appealed one of the conditions put forth by the government related to disposal of water leached purification residue.

As such, the miner is considering building out initial ore processing near its Australian mine, Reuters reported.

“We have been giving great consideration to … our future industrial footprint,” CEO Amanda Lacaze was quoted as saying during an analyst and investor call. “We remain confident that we can agree a path forward with the Malaysian government which is good for Malaysia and good for our business.”

Lynas is the biggest miner of rare earths outside of China.

“We see value in operating alternative cracking and leaching processing close to our resource, and therefore the primary locations that we have been considering for growth are in Western Australia,” the miner said in a statement posted to its website. “Part of this planning has been to scope our future industrial footprint. Our preference has always been to add to our Malaysian capability, not replace it. Our Malaysian cracking and leaching operations are performing very well as a result of the IP our Malaysian team has developed and owned – IP which others cannot use – and the hard work of all the Lynas team. We remain committed to supporting the Malaysian economy and protecting our people’s jobs. However, this same work means we are well placed to deal with any change in Malaysian government policy.”

The company received a shock last Friday following comments by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who indicated the miner’s Malaysian operations were being put up for buyers who can make good on cleanup of the radioactive waste.

“With regard to Lynas, we have imposed an extra condition, that is they must take away the waste,” Mohamad said. “But they want to take away the waste to where? They want to take it to Australia, but Australia doesn’t want to accept it, so they can’t do it anyway.

“So what we have done is we have opened up the business to other people, and there are other companies willing to buy up or somehow or other acquire Lynas, they have given us a promise that in future before sending the raw material to Malaysia they will clean it up first, they will crack it and decontaminate it in some way with regard to radioactivity, so that when the raw material comes here, the volume is less and the waste from that raw material is not dangerous to anybody.”

The comments came just over a week after Lynas rejected a $1.5 billion takeover bid from Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers.

Meanwhile, in perhaps promising news for Lynas, the Sydney Morning Herald reported the government of Western Australia has indicated it would consider offering assistance if the company should decide to build a new processing plant in the state.

China Becomes Top Rare Earths Importer

Speaking of China, the country exerts an overwhelming dominance in the rare earths market, which includes materials used in a wide variety of high-tech capacities, from smartphones to laptops and more.

Now, China is also the world’s top rare earths importer, Reuters reported.

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Citing data from consultancy Adamas Intelligence, China’s imports of rare earths surged 167% last year. In addition, China became a net importer of at least seven rare earths, including praseodymium and yttrium, for the first time in more than 30 years.

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

The yttrium price fell 0.3% month over month as of April 1, down to $33.52/kg. Terbium oxide rose 4.7% to $465.52/kg.

Neodymium oxide dropped 5.2% to $43,573/mt.

Europium oxide fell 0.3% to $38.73/kg. Dysprosium oxide jumped 15.4% to $218.98/kg.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. mines churned out $82.8 billion worth of minerals in 2018.

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The 2018 total marked a 3% year-over-year increase from $79.7 billion in 2017, according to the report from the USGS National Minerals Information Center.

“The Mineral Commodity Summaries provide crucial, unbiased statistics that decision-makers and policy-makers in both the private and public sectors rely on to make business decisions and national policy,” said Steven M. Fortier, director of the National Mineral Information Center, in a prepared statement. “Industries – such as steel, aerospace and electronics – processed nonfuel mineral materials and created an estimated $3.02 trillion in value-added products in 2018, which is a 6 percent increase over 2017.”

The report highlights the U.S.’s dependence on foreign sources for a number of minerals. According to the report, “imports made up more than half of U.S apparent consumption for 48 nonfuel mineral commodities, and the U.S. was 100 percent net import reliant for 18 of those.”

Of the 18 commodities for which the U.S. is totally reliant on imports, 14 were named on a critical minerals list designated in May 2018 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The full list of critical minerals included: aluminum (bauxite), antimony, arsenic, barite, beryllium, bismuth, cesium, chromium, cobalt, fluorspar, gallium, germanium, graphite (natural), hafnium, helium, indium, lithium, magnesium, manganese, niobium, platinum group metals, potash, the rare earth elements group, rhenium, rubidium, scandium, strontium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, and zirconium.

China topped the list of exporters of nonfuel minerals to the U.S., followed by Canada. As noted in our Rare Earths MMI series, the U.S. — the whole world, in fact — is largely dependent on China for rare earths elements, as China controls most of the sector.

Unsurprisingly, when it came time for the Trump administration to roll out a finalized list of tariffs in September — $200 billion worth in tariffs on Chinese goods, in addition to the $50 billion worth of tariffs imposed earlier in 2018 — rare earths were left off the list.

While it certainly is not enough to counterbalance China’s dominance in the sector, the USGS report notes rare earth mining resumed in the U.S. last year for the first time since 2015, when Molycorp, owner of the Mountain Pass rare earths mine, declared bankruptcy. Mountain Pass, the U.S.’s only operating rare earths mine, was eventually sold to MP Mine Operations LLC for $20.5 million in 2017.

Minerals Production Up, Metal Mine Production Down

Breaking down U.S. mine production further, U.S. industrial minerals production came in at a value of $56.3 billion last year (up 7% from 2017), while metal mine production checked in at an estimated $25.9 billion (down 4% from 2017).

Crushed stone, construction sand and gravel accounted for 45% of industrial minerals production, at a value of $25.3 billion. Meanwhile, gold, copper, iron ore and zinc led the way in metal mine production.

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Other Highlights

A few other items of note from the USGS report:

  • U.S. imports of aluminum fell by an estimated 11% last year, as the U.S.’s Section 232 tariff on imported aluminum went into effect. Argentina and Australia were exempted from the duty (Argentina was tagged with a quota), while the tariff rate for Turkish aluminum doubled amid diplomatic tensions last year.
  • A New York zinc mine, last operational in 2008, reopened last year.
  • Twelve states produced more than $2 billion worth of nonfuel mineral commodities in 2018, according to the report. The list includes, in descending order: Nevada, Arizona, Texas, California, Minnesota, Florida, Alaska, Utah, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming.

The Renewables Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell one point this month for an MMI reading of 103.

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The Hunt for Cobalt

As noted routinely in this installment of the MMI series, cobalt is a coveted material for its use in a wide variety of high-tech applications, from cellphones to laptops and much more.

A majority of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where political instability and the government’s revision of its mining code (increasing royalty rates for cobalt and other materials) have posed business challenges to miners.

As such, it’s not surprising that some are looking for new sources of cobalt.

According to a Bloomberg report, a new startup powered by a coalition of billionaires, including Bill Gates, is seeking to do just that.

The startup, KoBold Metals, aims to create a “Google Maps for the Earth’s crust,” according to the report, in an effort to locate new sources of cobalt.

“KoBold Metals applies statistical modeling, big data aggregation, and basic science to materially improve the pace and efficacy of natural resources exploration,” KoBold’s website states. “We are applying our proprietary platform, Machine Prospector, to explore for new sources of ethical cobalt from reliable jurisdictions.”

The approach would also offer more specific focus to cobalt, as opposed to mining of the material as a byproduct of copper or nickel, as is typically the case.

“People just haven’t looked for the stuff,” KoBold CEO Kurt House told Bloomberg. “There’s very limited history of exploration at all outside of piggybacking on nickel and copper deposits.”

Cobalt Price Slides

Sticking with the cobalt theme, the price of the coveted material plunged throughout the second half of 2018 — and a recovery is not expected in the near term.

According to Reuters, the cobalt price fell to a two-year low of $32,000 per ton, down from $100,000 per ton in the first half of 2018.

What contributed to the plunge? According to the report, high prices led to an uptick in supply. However, cobalt demand is expected to exceed supply in the long term, according to the report.

GOES Prices Fall

The price of grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) fell 4.1% month over month to $2,360/mt as of March 1.

The GOES MMI fell 8.2% for a March value of 168.

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Actual Metal Prices and Trends

Japanese steel plate fell 2.3% month over month to $772.30/mt as of March 1. Korean steel plate rose 1.9% to $586.67/mt. Chinese steel plate increased 3.8% to $642.72/mt.

U.S. steel plate fell 1.8% to $997/st.

The Chinese neodymium price fell 1.8% to $58,29.10/mt. Chinese silicon rose 0.2% to $1,539.54/mt, while Chinese cobalt cathodes jumped 0.2% to $99,397.20/mt.

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The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) held flat this month, holding for a reading of 18.

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Auditors Cite Material Risk for Lynas Corp

According to mining.com, auditors have flagged a material risk for Australian miner Lynas Corp’s Malaysian operations.

The rare earths miner, one of the biggest outside of China, has been navigating new regulatory standards imposed by the Malaysian government.

“As noted in the report for the quarter ending 31 December 2018, during the half year the Malaysian government appointed a Review Committee to evaluate Lynas Malaysia’s operations,” the miner noted in its quarterly earnings announcement. “The Review Committee’s report was released on 4 December 2018 and found Lynas Malaysia’s operations are low risk and Lynas Malaysia is compliant with applicable laws. Separately, on 4 December 2018, the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) issued a letter containing two new pre-conditions for Lynas’ licence renewal on 2 September 2019. These conditions relate to the management of the 2 residues produced by Lynas operations in Malaysia.”

According to the release, Lynas has appealed one of the conditions concerning the disposal of water leached purification (WLP) residue, one of the residues cited by the Malaysian government.

The miner’s license to operate in the country is up for renewal in September.

“The regulatory environment in Malaysia was very challenging through the half year, Lynas CEO and Managing Director Amanda Lacaze said in the release. “Despite this, we remained focused on business fundamentals, meeting the needs of our key customers and laying the foundations for further growth in our business.”

Greener Rare Earths Extraction?

According to a report by Forbes, researchers may have found a greener way to extract rare earths, which are coveted for a number of high-tech applications, including ever-more-sophisticated smartphones.

As the article by Dr. Anna Powers notes, mining rare earths is a difficult business — even where deposits exist, they may not be economically viable. In addition, the mining of rare earths elements poses negative environmental impacts.

However, as Powers explained, scientists may have found a more environmentally friendly method by which to extract rare earths elements: bio-acids.

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“Scientists used synthetic phosphogypsum which was produced in lab and had a controlled composition, and used various acids to understand which acid was best at separating rare-earths most efficiently,” she explained. “Surprisingly, bio-acids did the best job! The next step of this research would be to apply industrial grade phosphogypsum found as a by product to refine the results of this study as well as understand how different compositions of phosphogypsum affects the ability of rare-earth metals to be extracted.”

Actual Metal Prices and Trends

The yttrium price ticked up 0.2% month over month to $33.63/kilogram as of March 1. Terbium oxide moved up 1.6% to $444.67/kilogram.

Neodymium oxide fell 1.1% to $45,961.90/mt. Europium oxide ticked up 0.2% to $38.86/kilogram and dysprosium oxide rose 5.2% to $189.83/kilogram.

You can’t please all of the people all of the time and the more people you are trying to please the harder it gets.

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When you are the largest and oldest metals exchange in the world and are trying to balance often competing priorities of a very diverse range of stakeholders — not to mention avoid potential litigation for just saying the wrong thing — it is hardly surprising the London Metal Exchange falls out of favor with one group or another from time to time.

Look at the aluminum load out queues some years ago, hated with a passion by consumers, loved by the warehouse operators and the LME in between facing litigation from Rusal over its efforts to find a solution.

Once again, the LME finds itself the object of someone’s ire.

This time it is a range of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Amnesty International and Global Witness, upset with the LME’s plan to enforce standards of responsible sourcing and environmental stewardship on suppliers (or face their brands being banned from LME approval).

To be fair, the NGOs are not upset that the LME is taking the initiative — they are upset that it does not go far enough.

Read more

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The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) showed no movement this month, sticking at 17.

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Joining Forces

A Canadian company and an Australian company are joining forces on a rare earth elements project in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

In late January, Canadian firm Avalon Advanced Materials announced plans to work with Australian firm Cheetah Resources “to participate in the development of the rare earth resources on its mining leases collectively comprising the Nechalacho Project at Thor Lake near Yellowknife” in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

“We are delighted to have attracted a like-minded partner in Cheetah to the rare earth opportunity at Thor Lake,” Avalon President and CEO Don Bubar said. “The agreement structure will allow Avalon to resume its long term development aspirations for the Nechalacho Project, and secure a source of non-dilutive working capital to continue to advance our other near term development aspirations for the East Kemptville Tin and Separation Rapids Lithium Projects.”

According to the Avalon announcement, Cheetah focuses primarily on the small-scale development of rare earth resources enriched in magnet rare earths, like neodymium and praseodymium.

Daimler to Work with Chinese Auto Suppliers

Daimler AG plans to augment partnerships with Chinese auto suppliers, Reuters reported late last month, citing Mercedes-Benz executive Wilko Stark.

Of note via-a-vis rare earth minerals is the fact that Daimler is also considering an alliance on electric vehicle batteries, according to the report.

Minerals like cobalt are often found in areas of the world that lead to ethically compromised supply chains. For example, a majority of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where there are numerous documentation from NGOs and news media regarding the use of child labor, low wages for miners and poorly regulated working conditions that are often extremely dangerous.

Per the Reuters report, Stark, however, said there are no “formal decisions” with respect to such a battery alliance.

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Actual Metal Prices and Trends

The yttrium price increased 2.6% month over month as of Feb. 1, up to $33.56/kilogram. Terbium oxide jumped 1.9% to $437.79/kilogram.

Europium oxide increased 8.0% to $38.78/kilogram. Dysprosium oxide jumped 2.6% to $180.49/kilogram.

The Rare Earths Monthly Metals Index (MMI) fell 5.5% to land at 17, just one point shy of its all-time historical low (16).

Certain constituent metal prices rose, such as cerium oxide and europium oxide.

However, several others fell, including neodymium oxide (falling 0.6% to $45,649 per metric ton) and terbium metal (falling 0.7% to $566 per kilogram).

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The China Front

China is doubling down on illegal mining and traceability of rare earth metals and minerals, according to new guidelines published by the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) late last week, as reported by Reuters.

As readers know, China’s been attempting to clean up its rare earths production sector for about a decade already, and it’s made strides toward its goals, but there’s still a way to go.

Even after launching a crackdown on the rare earths sector in 2009 and being forced by the WTO to get rid of export controls in 2014, “illegal mining and production continued to disrupt ‘market order’ and damage the interests of legitimate enterprises,” the ministry stated in their notice, according to Reuters.

The ministry is also committed to establishing a traceability system to prevent buyers from snapping up illegal material and will suspend licenses of companies that break the law, according to the news service.

Meanwhile, In Korea…

Across the Yellow Sea, patent applications for uses of rare earths have been going strong.

According to the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) on Dec. 30, as reported by BusinessKorea, “the number of patent applications related to the use of rare earth materials for permanent magnets and batteries totaled 2,356 over the past five years from 2011 to 2016.”

High-tech heavyweights Samsung led the way, with Hyundai and LG not far behind.

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