NEWS | August 9, 2023
Well over 90% of our rare earths come from China. What many do not know is that not only mining but also processing takes place there. So, while the USA is advancing its domestic mining, they then send the ore to China because there are no facilities to process it in their own country.
With its refinery in Malaysia, the Australian mining company Lynas offers the West an alternative to China. However, unlike the People’s Republic, the Malaysian government keeps a close eye on environmental regulations. These regulations are set to be reviewed at Lynas at the beginning of the new year. This might force the resource company to abandon its refinery in the country and relocate it back to Australia.
Rare earths are extracted from ores such as monazite, bastnäsite, or xenotime. Subsequently, they need to be separated from each other as they occur in associated forms. Before the industry can use them in their oxide powder form, six steps are required: mining, beneficiation, extraction, separation, purification, and processing. The separation methods involve the use of significant amounts of sulfuric acid and other environmentally impactful substances, which is why rare earths were considered “dirty” in the 1980s. However, this perception is changing as more and more processes are discovered that enable a “greener” production.
The sensitivity to the production conditions of rare earths is growing, not least due to supply chain laws. New “green” processes being researched in countries like Norway (we reported) are making rare earths more expensive. However, this will lead to more countries finding it worthwhile to open mines and especially refineries and produce these resources in a “green” manner. Even though this will take many years, it’s the only way to overcome dependence on China.
Noble Elements supports a more environmentally friendly production, which it contributes to with its investment in a rare earth mining project in South Africa. The local mining company adheres to environmental protection and labor standards and aims to rely on renewable energy sources for power supply.