Year in Review 2013: Rare Earths

By Kasia Patel
Published: Friday, 20 December 2013

Kasia Patel, Senior Reporter

January

The UK Financial Services Authority (FSA) warned that an increasing number of people were being approached by firms promoting investments in rare earth minerals and related schemes as part of the latest wave of financial scams to be directed at the British public.

China set the first of two rare earth production quotas for 2013 at 46,900 tonnes, about half the total quota set the previous year. The ministry did not make the total 2012 production quota public, but the figure for 2011 stood at 93,800 tonnes.

Rare earths miner Molycorp Inc. announced that all the production components of its rare earth manufacturing complex in Mountain Pass, California, US, were operational and that the facility had begun ramping up to its full-scale Phase 1 run rate.

Junior rare earths explorer Matamec Explorations Inc. received Canadian dollar (C$) 1.6m ($1.6m) from its partner Toyotsu Rare Earth Canada Inc. (TRECan), the Canadian arm of the Japanese rare earths trading group, Toyotsu Rare Earths Corp.

February

The port city of Murmansk in north-west Russia was slated to become a centre for rare earths processing as part of a government programme to promote production of the minerals in the Russian federation.

A pilot project to investigate whether rare earths can be commercially extracted from Jamaica’s red mud bauxite waste was launched by the island’s government, following the discovery of high concentrations of rare earths in the red mud, a by-product of refining bauxite into alumina, by researchers from Japan’s Nippon Light Metal Co. Ltd.

Rare earths were deemed the industrial minerals most at risk of supply shortage by the British Geological Survey (BGS), according to its Risk List. Rare earths switched to a supply risk index of 9.5, compared to 8.0 in 2011, when the minerals were in fifth place.

Lynas joined the sparse ranks of rare earth producers as its Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) processing plant in Malaysia produced its first commercial rare earths products.

March

A bill aimed at securing US rare earths supplies was reintroduced to Congress after it was left hanging after being introduced in 2011.

Lynas cleared the final legal hurdle in bringing its processing plant in Malaysia into permanent operation, when the country’s Federal Court dismissed protestors’ requests for judicial review of the decision to grant the facility a licence.

April

A spokesman for China Customs admitted to giving “incorrect” and “groundless” data at a briefing about Chinese trade figures. Zheng Yuesheng, head of the statistics department at the Beijing-based General Administration of Customs, released a statement expressing his “deep apologies” for citing unconfirmed investment data sourced from the internet.

May

Rare earths deposits were discovered in Rwanda, prompting the country’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources to invite foreign investors to explore the areas evaluated.

June

Lynas said it would hold back full-scale production of separated rare earths at its Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Malaysia in response to limited demand and falling prices. It added that it would implement a minimum price schedule for its rare earths products, effective 1 July 2013.

The company also dropped its defamation action against the Malaysian protest group, Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas!

The number of companies approved to produce rare earths products in China rose in June, according to information released by the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), taking the total number of approved companies to 40.

The European Commission released a detailed progress report on its promotion of raw material supplies in Europe, outlining provisions for key industrial minerals, including rare earths, designed to boost the availability of key raw materials in the European Union (EU).

July

China’s Ministry of Commerce (MofCom) announced its second rare earths export quota for 2013, replicating the volume unveiled in the first quota at the end of last year. The 15,500-tonne quota for the six months to the end of December includes 13,821 tonnes light rare earths and 1,679 tonnes heavy rare earths, and brings the full-year total to 31,001 tonnes.

Baotou Steel Rare Earth Hi-Tech said that it would halt production from one of its rare earths concentrate factories for six months in an effort to stabilise the market.

August

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for mining revoked Pacific Wildcat’s mining licence for the Mrima Hill rare earths, citing irregularities in the process that led to the company’s acquisition of the 21-year lease.

A coalition of 12 Chinese rare earths companies planned to sue Japan’s Hitachi Metals for allegedly using invalid patents and infringing their patent rights.

A team of Japanese scientists developed a coating that uses the innate properties of rare earths to change colour at different temperatures.

September

The Chinese government planned to inspect nearly 1,600 rare earth miners, smelters and traders as part of a nationwide clampdown on illegal mineral production.

Rare earths specialist Dudley Kingsnorth told delegates at the IM China’s Roundtable that he believed rare earths demand could reach between 200,000 and 250,000 tpa by 2020.

October

The World Trade Organization (WTO) judged that China’s export restrictions on rare earths were incompatible with its international trading rules.

Norwegian researchers welcomed a Û6m ($8.10m) grant, approved by the European Commission to help develop new technology to recover rare earth elements from waste electrical and electronic equipment.

November

Molycorp announced a net loss for the third term of 2013, as rare earth prices remained low.

A tolling agreement between Russia’s Solikamsk Magnesium Works and lrtysh Rare Earth Co. in Kazakhstan was signed in a decisive step towards developing Russia’s rare earths industry, Pavel Dedkov, managing director of Solikamsk, told delegates at the 2013 Rare Earths Conference in Hong Kong in November.

December

The Chinese Academy of Sciences started a space mission to explore rare earths deposits on the Moon.

China published its first batch of rare earths export quotas for 2014, revealing a cut of almost 400 tonnes, or 2.5%, on last year’s figure. Licensed Chinese exporters will be allowed to export 15,110 tonnes of the minerals in the first six months of 2014, down from 15,501 in 2013.