Or at least we’re getting to the beginning of the end of the rare earth supply crisis. Lynas has actually switched on its separation plant in Malaysia:
Lynas has been embroiled in lengthy environmental and safety disputes with local residents since construction began two years ago. Its $800 million plant, which opponents say is environmentally hazardous, began operations late last month after long delays caused by legal challenges and safety disputes.
That one plant will, when fully operational, provide some 15-20% of world demand. Which is a serious bite into the previous Chinese 97% dominance of the industry.
Just to give a bit of background. Rare earths are not rare (nor are they earths). There are deposits all over the place and there are streams of rare earths that can be extracted from all sorts of waste products of other mining processes. I’m opening (admittedly, a very small one) myself in February 2013.
China has supplied, in recent decades, up to 97% of the world’s usage. Quite simply because no one else could be bothered to do the mining at the prices that the Chinese were willing to accept.
China also has 35% of the world’s reserves: but that’s a very misleading number. This doesn’t mean 35% of all the rare earths there are. It means 35% of all the deposits that anyone has bothered to go out and measure, weigh, drill and test. “Reserve” is not at all the same as resources.