Rare earths are essential in our modern world. They enable technology to be smaller, lighter and more efficient, and are a key component in the manufacture of clean energy and high end technology solutions.
The vital role rare earths play in the manufacturing of hybrid and electric vehicles and other high tech applications has prompted countries to seek long term sustainable supplies to support domestic industries.
China is the dominant force in the rare earth industry, supplying approximately 90% of global demand and consuming approximately 70% of global supply. Realising the significant national economic benefits and the interdependence of a diverse range of downstream industries, the Chinese Government continues to implement measures to maintain its dominant position. These measures include national industry consolidation and stockpiling of rare earths such as dysprosium to sustain local supplies.
As a result of China’s rare earth export restrictions in 2010 and 2011, several countries including Japan and the United States (US) filed a dispute with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that the restrictions breached its trade regulations. In 2015, the WTO ruled in favour of Japan and the US instructing China to remove its export quotas. Following the decision China removed the export quotas, however has since implemented several other measures to control global supply including restriction on mining licences to six consolidated entities, separation quotas, VAT on concentrate and resource taxes.
Of global supply, approximately 30% is estimated to be produced illegally in China. The irreversible environmental damage and sterilisation of future rare earth resources has triggered a heavy clamp down on these illegal activities by the Chinese Government. This illegal production is primarily focussed on HREs, such as dysprosium and terbium, with global supplies reliant on this illegal source.
Supplies of HREs from China are likely to become scarcer, with market commentators forecasting China’s HRE resources will be exhausted in 10-20 years at current rates of exploitation. Furthermore, the Chinese Government continues to consolidate the industry into six rare earth producers to promote domestic downstream value added production and assist in curbing illegal mining and processing.
The drive to reduce the world’s dependence upon fossil fuels and decrease carbon emissions, coupled with the growing demand for technology that is faster, smaller and more efficient, is expected to foster significant growth in the rare earths market in the coming decade. With primary approvals, community support and the use of mining best practices Northern Minerals is positioned to become the first significant world producer of dysprosium outside of China.