China produces more than 90 percent of the worldâ€™s rare earth. Meanwhile, overcapacity, a low proportion of high-end products, smuggling and pollution still hamper the development of the rare earth industry. Hence, in order to try to curtail pollution and prevent over-mining, China has been cracking down on the industry for years to curb illegal mining, smuggling and environmental devastation. Subsequently, China imposed strict rare earth export quotas in 2010.
After many years of development, China has established a relatively complete R&D system, pioneered numerous technologies of international advanced levels in rare earth mining and dressing, smelting, separating, etc., and its unique mining and dressing processes and advanced separating techniques have laid a solid foundation for efficient exploitation and utilization of rare earth resources. The rare earth new materials industry has experienced steady development, and industrialization has been achieved in using rare earths to produce permanent-magnet, luminescent, hydrogen-storage, and catalytic materials, and other new materials, providing support for the restructuring and upgrading of traditional industries, and the development of emerging industries of strategic importance.
With a relatively complete industrial system armed with mining, dressing, smelting and separating technologies and incorporating equipment manufacturing, material processing and end-product utilization, China can produce over 400 kinds of rare earth products in more than 1,000 specifications. In 2011, China produced 96,900 tons of rare earth smelting separation products. Currently, China supplies over 90 percent of the global rare earth demand with 23 percent of the worldâ€™s total reserves.
After more than 50 years of excessive mining, China’s rare earth reserves have kept declining and the years of guaranteed rare earth supply have been reducing. The decline of rare earth resources in major mining areas is accelerating, as most of the original resources are depleted. In Baotou, only one-third of the original volume of rare earth resources is available in the main mining areas, and the reserve-extraction ratio of ion-absorption rare earth mines in China’s southern provinces has declined from 50 two decades ago to the present 15.
Outdated production processes and techniques in the mining, dressing, smelting and separating of rare earth ores have severely damaged surface vegetation, caused soil erosion, pollution, and acidification, and reduced or even eliminated food crop output.
Due to multiple factors, including domestic and international demand, the smuggling of rare earth products to overseas markets continues to be a problem in spite of the efforts made by China’s customs listing it as a key criminal act to crack down on.
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