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Rare Earth Elements and China’s dominance on it

Posted on : 18 Dec 2019

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  • The REEs are a set of 17 minerals used to make, among other things, permanent magnets which are used in defence equipment, including actuators, to control guidance systems for airborne smart missiles, as well as in aerospace applications for aircraft components and airstrip maintenance equipment.
  • REEs are also used in electronic items like television sets and cell phones and renewable energy equipment like wind turbines and solar panels.
  • However, of the 17 minerals, neodymium and praseodymium form the majority of minerals used in permanent magnets, while dysprosium is used in neodymium‐iron‐boron permanent magnets to improve their high temperature performance.
  • Rare earths are not rare at all.  In fact, they are found in several countries including China, the US, Australia, Brazil, Burundi, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam – with global deposit reserves estimated at 120 million tonnes.
  • They are considered ‘rare’ as they usually exist as compounds fused with other metals, and they also oxidise quickly, making the process of refining and extracting them in commercially viable quantities very expensive, especially in countries with strict environmental and effluent standards.
  • India is one of the few countries that have substantial REE reserves. However, it ranks low in the REE market and is seen, at best, as a low-cost supplier of raw materials.
  • Although over the years India has developed some expertise in extracting and processing rare earths from mineral ores (mainly monazite), it has yet to acquire the requisite expertise in the downstream sector, that is, in the manufacture of intermediate products like permanent magnets, phosphors, etc., mainly due to the volatility of the REE market prices. 
  • India imports most of the rare earths in finished form as electric vehicle manufacturing is still in its infancy.
  • India and Japan had set up a joint venture company Toyotsu Rare Earths India in Visakhapatnam for the extraction and processing of rare earth oxides.

Article Related Questions

  1. Consider the following statements regarding rare earth elements (REEs)
    1.This market is dominated by Japan having highest reserves.
    2.Rare earths are not rare at all.
    3.India and Japan had set up a joint venture company Toyotsu Rare Earths India in Visakhapatnam.
    Which of the statement given above is/are correct?

  2. 1.1 and 2 only

    2.2 and 3 only

    3.2 only

    4.1, 2 and 3

    Right Ans : 2 and 3 only

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