In an era that has witnessed technology reigning sovereign across myriad verticals, rare earth metals market has attained renewed prominence, on the premise of the fact that these metals play a crucial role in the fields of computer networks, consumer electronics, clean energy, environmental mitigation, and more. Having identified the potential benefits provided by these metals and understood their supposed lack of demand and supply and confined availability in very few regions, numerous countries have been attempting to invest millions in order to increase their mining operations and unearth rare earth metals.
Merely last year for instance, Iluka Resources, an Australian mining company with a substantial share in the regional rare earth metals industry, has invested more than USD 3 million (approximately AUD 4 million) for mining titanium-zirconium deposits in North Kazakhstan and Kostanai. Through this project, the company has officially penetrated Kazakhstan rare earth metals market and even aims to construct a rare earth metal processing plant in the next few months, post this project.
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While the United States, back in the duration between the 1960s to the 1980s, stood as the global leader in rare earth metals market, as on the advent of the new millennium, China rules the roost, having emerged as the pivotal source of rare earth oxides and magnets. As per the 2000 United States Geological Survey, China has been the producer of more than 90% of rare earth metals across the globe and stands tall in APAC rare earth metals industry as far as product consumption, demand, and supply are concerned.
The monopoly had been brought to light when in 2000, the country extensively reduced export quotas of rare earth metals markets sans plausible explanations. Nonetheless, studies report that even today, China is the sole manufacturer of rare earths, especially lanthanum, neodymium, and yttrium – metals that find mammoth applications in superconductors, computer discs, microphones, headphones, camera lenses, color televisions, and other consumer goods, high-powered, pulsed infrared lasers for the defense industry, and rheumatoid arthritis medicines, and surgical supplies, and cancer treatment drugs across the medical care domain.
There have been major changes in the domestic policies of China recently, which have no doubt, have had transformational implications on China rare earth metals industry. The ‘Made in China 2025’ policy enacted in March 2017 listed down a catalog of regulations that targets the manufacturing of highly valued downstream goods as opposed to manufacturing products from polluting industries, that has led to technology and energy companies wanting to domestically source nearly 80% of their refined minerals by 2025.
With increased in-house consumption, Chinese exports are likely to be affected, indirectly impacting rare earth metals market share across numerous other topographies. Furthermore, Chinese manufacturers would deploy rare earth magnets in wind turbines, EVs, etc., forcing non-Chinese companies to seek rare earths from alternative sources. Amidst the backdrop of this potentially austere scenario, Australia has been forecast to emerge as the next raw material hub for global rare earth materials industry. Nonetheless, while China’s policy changes and regulatory inspections may cause slight fluctuations in the commercialization potential of global rare earth metals market,
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It is prudent to mention that rare earth recovery mechanisms are receiving widespread governmental attention. In the last three years, REEcycle’s technology has apparently received a funding of USD 1.4 million. As the demand for these metals surges infinite boundaries, most of the rare earth metals market players would be willing to either invest in recovery technologies, or establish themselves as sole proprietors through innovative R&D activities that would help roll out similar such systems.
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