Rare-Earth Elements (REE) Industry
China is rich in rare-earth resources and the country produces different kinds of rare-earth products. Since the 1990s, China had become the leading rare-earth supply country in the world. During the past decade, China's rare-earth production accounted for about 90% of the world total. Rare-earth consumption in China had increased steadily. The country consumed about 73,000 t of rare earths in 2007 and 68,000 t in 2008 compared with 19,300 t in 2000. Rare earths was a strategic commodity in China. Foreign investors were prohibited from mining rare earths and were restricted from participating in rare-earth smelting and separation projects.
Although China's total output capacity was huge, the average capacity for each producer was small. As a result, the profitability was low and the product quality was inconsistent between different shipments. Because of oversupply of rare-earth products in domestic markets, producers exported their products at prices that were less than their production costs, and they depended on the export VAT rebate to make up the difference to become profitable. In 2005, the Government cancelled the export VAT rebate and levied an export tariff of 25% on some rare-earth products.
The dominant position China's rare earths in the world was expected to become more important because of the wide range of cutting-edge environmental technology, such as wind turbines, low-energy light bulbs, and hybrid cars, that depend on rare-earth metals. Owing to an increase in domestic demand, the Government gradually reduced the export quota during the past several years. In 2008, domestic rare-earth producers were allocated a total of 34,156 t (in rare-earth oxide content), of which the first batch was 22,780 t and the second batch was 11,376 t. Sino-foreign joint-venture rare-earth producers were allocated a total of 8,210.5 t in 2008. The Government approved 23 domestic rare-earth producers and traders to have the right to perform rare-earth trading in China. Only 20 domestic rare-earth producers and traders were awarded export rights, and the first batch export quota was reduced to 16,043 t in 2009. Sino-foreign rare-earth producers were allowed to export a total of 6,685.1 t in 2009.
In 2002, the State Council approved the restructuring of the domestic rare-earth sector and the establishment of two regional groups-China Northern Rare Earth Group Co. and China Southern Rare Earth Group Co. Owing to the reluctance of local governments and rare-earth producers, the establishment of the two groups was unsuccessful. During the past several years, the Government continued to urge rare-earth producers to merge into several large groups and to eliminate duplicate projects. Rare-earth producers realized that the bitter competition among each other was causing financial losses and that integrating the rare-earth producers could benefit the rare-earth sector in China.
In 2007, Rare Earth Hi-Tech Co. changed its name to Baotou Rare Earth Co. and started to discuss with other rare-earth producers in the Nei Mongol Autonomous Region the possibility of forming Baotou Rare Earth International Trading Co. and establishing a rare-earth concentrates reserve base in the Region. Mianning County in Sichuan Province was China's second ranked rare-earth producing base. In 2007, the local government shut down mining activities in Mianning County because miners were using obsolete technology to exploit and process rare earths and were causing environmental damage in the county. In 2008, Jiangxi Copper Corp. obtained rare-earth mining rights in Maoniuping, Mianning County, and planned to use advanced mining and processing technology to produce rare earths.
Dingnan Dahua New Materials Co. Ltd., Ganxian Hongjin Rare Earth Co. Ltd., and Minmetals Nonferrous Metals Co. Ltd. formed a joint-venture company, Minmetals Ganzhou Rare Earth Co. Ltd., to process rare-earth resources in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province, in 2008. Most of China's ion-absorption type of rare earth was located in Ganzhou. There were 88 rare-earth producers in Ganzhou, and 90% of them ceased their operations because of weak prices. Jiangxi Province had an ion-absorption type of rare earths reserve of 2.3 Mt. Minmetals Ganzhou Rare Earth had a rare-earth separation capacity of 8,500 t/yr and planned to expand the separation capacity to 13,500 t/yr within 5 years. The joint venture also planned to develop value-added rare-earth products for the aerospace and electronics sectors.
China Nonferrous Metal Industry's Foreign Engineering and Construction Co. Ltd. (CNMI), Fengyuan Development Co. Ltd., Jiangsu Zhuoqun Nano Rare Earth Co. Ltd., and Shengchang Rare Earth Material Co. Ltd. jointly established a rare-earth company-China Nonferrous South Rare Earth (Xinfeng) Co. Ltd.-to build a 7,000-t/yr rare-earth separation plant in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province. Rare-earth operations at CNMI's Zhujiang Smelter in Guangzhou, Guangdong, Shengchang, and Zhuo Quo would be shut down when the Xinfeng plant started operation. The Government approved the establishment of the new company and the relocation plan of the Zhujiang smelter.
Guangdong Guangsheng Nonferrous Metals (Group) Co. Ltd.'s subsidiary Guangcheng Nonferrous Metals Co. Ltd. was the sole legal rare-earth mining company in Guangdong Province. The Government approved Guangcheng's application to list on the stock exchange and to consolidate eight rare-earth mining, smelting, and processing companies and five tungsten mining companies in Guangdong. Guangcheng had a rare-earth smelting and separation capacity of 8,000 t/yr.
China's companies were looking for rare-earth investments overseas. East China Exploration planned to acquire a 25% interest in Australia's Arafura Resources Ltd., which had the Nolans rare-earths-phosphate-uranium project in Northern Territory, Australia. China Nonferrous Metals Mining (Group) Co. Ltd. agreed to acquire a 51.6% interest at Lynas Corp. Ltd. Lynas's Mount Weld rare-earth mining project was under construction in Western Australia. If the transaction is completed, China would continue to be the globally dominant player in the rare-earth industry in the future.
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