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Canada, Australia hunt for rare earths

Alternative Energy

Hopes are high for major finds of rare earths in Canada, the US and Australia, as Chinese rare earth metals exports used in hi-tech gadgets fall sharply.

‘Everyone has started to search for rare earth elements (REE),’ Michel Jebrak, a mineral resources specialist at the University of Quebec in Montreal, told AFP.

‘The Japanese are desperately searching all over. Europe has a new strategic plan to secure rare earth elements too. It all started with concerns over China’s monopoly, triggering a race to find new deposits and mine them.’

Rare earth metals are a set of 17 chemical elements that despite their name are abundant in the Earth’s crust, but are very dispersed and rarely found in economically exploitable concentrations.

China currently produces, mostly in Inner Mongolia, almost 95 per cent of the rare earth elements used in cellular telephones, hybrid cars, wind power generators, flat screen televisions, MP3 players, computers and other devices.

The main obstacle is finding high enough concentrations of the metals to cope with growing demand and breaking the West’s reliance on China for supplies.

It is also thought that China could undermine efforts to bring new supplies online by flooding the international market with cheap REEs and making new mines uneconomical, Jebrak warned.

‘It’s a brave new world, and that’s a problem,’ he said. ‘The sector just exploded over the past year but could just as quickly collapse.’

China ordered a cut in REE exports in late 2010 in order to keep supplies for its own burgeoning high tech industry, to bolster prices and to encourage foreign firms to set up plants in China to access its restricted supply.

But the move by Beijing provoked anger in Japan, Germany and the United States – already concerned that current supplies might not meet an expanding demand for REEs – before export quotas were raised this year.

Western nations have since had to consider ways to break China’s monopoly and this led to the launch of dozens of mining exploration sites for REEs – one-quarter of them in Canada.

Toyota announced last week plans for a joint venture with Canadian junior mining company Matamec to develop a rare earth elements mine in Quebec to obtain supplies for the automaker’s hybrid and electric vehicles.

‘Companies like Toyota fear Chinese export quotas will be reduced again in 2014 or 2015 and so they want to secure new REE supplies as soon as possible,’ said Matamec chief executive Andre Gauthier.

If the Matamec deposit is proven to be economically exploitable, Toyota will finance the dig and buy all of its output for use in its hybrid vehicles.

According to Jean-Marc Lulin, head of the Quebec Mining Association, several junior mining companies are rummaging for REEs in Canada’s outback and predicted that within a few years the country could begin exporting REEs.

Australia and the United States are also vying to become major producers, he added.


4 Comments on "Canada, Australia hunt for rare earths"

  1. DC on Sun, 25th Dec 2011 1:16 pm 

    Lets see, all these awesome techs that REE require..

    Hybrid cars, waste of time and energy. Only marginally less toxic than there full-blown gas counterparts. If you factor in damage being done to mind RE for these cars, they could even more toxic than plain old gas-trash bins.

    Solution? No more new cars-period. Leave the RE in the ground.

    Cell phones-too cheap, too many of em, allready being disposed of by the millions with near zero effort to recycle.

    Solution? Build them to last, and make them so expensive no one will want to throw them away. Require large Enviro-taxes\fees built into there cost.

    Flat screen TVs…what else can you say…

    Mp3 players. Hardly a ‘need’ by any stetch, mmineing to world to make millions of these throw-away toxic tech toys is allready causeing real problems for the 3rd world hell-holes we ship all our dead tech too.

    Solution, again, build them to last, not to fail within 18months of purchase. Enviro-fees needed.

    Canada has no high-tech, clean tech sector to speak off. Canadas wet dream is to simply build the mines, sell the ownership of ore to amerikans or foriegn multi-national corprations, get stuck with the waste and mess afterwards, and let other countries build useful(or not so useful) gadjets out of the ore.

  2. Kenz300 on Sun, 25th Dec 2011 2:48 pm 

    Afghanistan was reported to have huge mineral deposits. Will mining of resources provide the jobs needed to get the country out of poverty?

  3. DC on Sun, 25th Dec 2011 9:06 pm 

    Here is how amerikans operate when it comes to minerals that happen to be sitting under ground that isnt amerikan. First, destabalize the govt, assisinate its leaders, forment rebellion and or outright invade. After a period of time, when the publics memory of why you amerikans are actually there begins to get fuzzy, install a pliant, subservient govt more to the likeing of US corporiate interests

    Then ‘aquire'(ie bribe or simply appropriate), mineral rights-mission accomplished

    In Canadas case, the US used a slighty less insidious methoed called ‘NAFTA’ or “free-treade”. But the idea behind it was just the same as in the Stan, minus the US combat troops. The legal plunder and theft of national resources is a game the US plays very well…

  4. BillT on Mon, 26th Dec 2011 2:47 am 

    Both of the above commentors are correct. It will take years to find and develop new sources of these minerals. When they are on the market, the market may just be gone. I doubt we have 5 years or so to wait as the world economy is collapsing and there will not be a market for this techno junk.

    Or, when the opportune time comes, the Chinese will flood the market and drop the price below profitability of the competition, destroying the investments and their mines. Capitalism does not work at a loss for long.

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