Will China Import Rare Earths In The Future?


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Dear reader,

As mentioned previously, the compromise that China made with the World Trade Organization (WTO) of not reducing its exportation quota for rare earth elements was broken in 2010, alleging environmental reasons and its desire to fight illegal mining. As a consequence, the United States of America, filed a complaint and presented it to the WTO in 2012, not a long time after, the European Union and Japan joined the US1. Last Wednesday (March 26th 2014), the WTO said that China broke the international trade law when it reduced its exportation quota of rare earths, tungsten and molybdenum to the world: “…it found that China’s export quotas were designed to achieve industrial policy goals rather than conservation… the Panel found that the challenged export quotas do not work together with measures restricting domestic Chinese use of rare earths, tungsten, and molybdenum”. Furthermore the WTO affirmed that: “The Panel concluded that the overall effect of the foreign and domestic restrictions is to encourage domestic extraction and secure preferential use of those materials by Chinese manufacturers, 2. These affirmations will certainly have repercussions all over the world.

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Rare Earth Recycling: The Clock Is Ticking

Recycling of rare earths is gaining momentum quietly, and stands to accelerate in 2014 given the increasing costs of mining and cost and schedule overruns at high profile sites1


 Dear reader,

It is not a secret that in many cases mining has a strong negative impact in the environment with problems related to erosion, contamination of soil, water and air, and loss of biodiversity. As a consequence, the health of many generations has been seriously affected. Nowadays, with the introduction of more strict and clear mining regulations, this situation has been improved. However, in places where illegal mining is the rule, not only environmental and health problems, but also human trafficking and forced labor nests arise.

During several years, the mining of rare earths has conducted to dramatically sad results to the environment in China, as it has been recently mentioned by Duncan: “communities living around the Bayan-Obo mining area in Inner Mongolia have had their crops, health and water supply ruined by a large, poorly maintained tailings lake2. A lax regulation in mining allowed the establishment of illegal mines during decades. The consequences of that situation not only affected the Chinese territory and the health of its population, but also had repercussions all over the world. For instance, China increased the production of rare earths at prices that other supplier companies could not compete, forcing them to shut down their mines and to the rare earths consumers to buy everything from China2. In this way China established its monopoly and became the biggest supplier of rare earths in the world.

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Dear Reader,

I am currently at another lanthanide meeting, this is one for a ionic liquid based EU funded project which is codenamed Colabats. This is a project being coordinated by Bob from C-Tech which is about the recovery of cobalt and lanthanides from unwanted secondary cells. It is about nickel metal hydride and lithium ion cells.

While EREAN is about magnets, the colabats project will still be of interest as it partly about lanthanides. This project does show how lanthanides have uses in many different sectors of industry.

The Colabats project will involve ultrasonics, solvent extraction experts, electrochemists, industrial companies, ionic liquid experts and other professionals.