China’s recent reduction in its 2011 export quota of rare earth minerals has caused great concern in many manufacturing industries around the world. China currently provides around 97% of the world’s supply of these minerals and recent reports state that the government will reduce exports by up to 35% in the first half of 2011.
Rare earth minerals are used in many applications, from smart phones to wind turbines, with around 26% (35,000 t) used in the production of magnets. The use of neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) permanent magnets, produced via the powder metallurgy (PM) process, has seen spectacular growth since the technology was developed in the early 1980’s. NdFeB magnets can also be produced via the powder injection moulding (PIM) route, allowing for small, complex shapes to be produced.
In an attempt to decrease the global reliance on China, both America and Australia plan to begin mining deposits of rare earth minerals.
In the USA, Molycorp has announced an expansion plan that is expected to provide an annual rate of up to approximately 40,000 metric tons of rare earth oxide (REO) equivalent per year at its Mountain Pass facility by the end of 2013. In Australia, Arafura Resources Ltd state that annual production of 20,000 tonnes of rare earth oxides from the Whyalla Rare Earths Complex, equivalent to about 10% of the world’s supply, is on schedule to commence in 2013. Also in Australia, Lynas Corporation estimates the capacity of its Mount Weld mine will be 22,000 tonnes per year by 2014.
Molycorp and Hitachi to join forces manufacturing rare earth magnets in the USA
Hitachi Metals, Ltd. based in Japan and Molycorp announced in late 2010 that they have entered into an agreement regarding the planned formation of joint ventures for the production of rare earth alloys and magnets in the USA. The ventures are to be focused on the manufacture of neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) alloys and magnets.
“As the world’s top manufacturer of NdFeB magnets, we are well positioned to satisfy the growing demand from global customers for these rare earth magnets, and to contribute to an energy efficient society,” stated Nobuhiko Shima, President of NEOMAX Company of Hitachi Metals, Ltd.
Signing of definitive agreements, subject to the satisfactory conclusion of the feasibility study and other conditions, for the joint venture to produce rare earth magnets will take place in late 2011.
“We look forward to launching these joint ventures for production in the USA together with Molycorp, which has long experience and deep expertise in the rare earth industry,” added Shima.
“These joint ventures are an integral part of Molycorp’s ‘mine-to-magnets’ business plan, and they move our Company and the United States one step closer to realising the strategic goal of re-establishing a complete rare earth manufacturing supply chain in the USA” stated Mark Smith, Molycorp’s Chief Executive Officer.
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