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DAILY NEWS ANALYSIS

  • 06 December, 2022

  • 6 Min Read

Rare Earth Elements

Rare Earth Elements

  • The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has urged the government to encourage private mining in the sector and diversify supply sources in light of India's reliance on China for rare earth minerals imports.
  • Despite having 6% of the world's rare earth reserves, India produces only 1% of global output and imports the majority of its rare earth minerals from China.
  • In 2018-19, for example, China accounted for 92% of rare earth metal imports by value and 97% by quantity.

What are CII's Suggestions?

  • As a critical component of the Deep Ocean Mission, the CII proposed establishing a 'India Rare Earths Mission' manned by professionals, similar to the India Semiconductor Mission.
  • The industry group has also proposed incorporating rare earth minerals into the 'Make in India' campaign, citing China's 'Made in China 2025' initiative, which focuses on new materials, including permanent magnets made from rare earth minerals.

What are rare earth metals?

  • They consist of seventeen different metallic elements.
  • These include the fifteen lanthanides on the periodic table, as well as scandium and yttrium, which have physical and chemical properties similar to the lanthanides.
  • The seventeen rare earth elements are cerium (Ce), dysprosium (Dy), erbium (Er), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), holmium (Ho), lanthanum (La), lutetium (Lu), neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), scandium (Sc), terbium (T (Y).
  • Because of their distinct magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties, these minerals are used in a wide range of modern technologies, including consumer electronics, computers and networks, communications, health care, national defence, and clean energy technologies.
  • These Rare Earth Elements are required by even futuristic technologies.
  • For example, high-temperature superconductivity, safe hydrogen storage and transport for a post-hydrocarbon economy, and so on.
  • They were given the name "rare earth" because it was previously difficult to extract them technologically from their oxide forms.
  • They are found in many minerals, but in too low concentrations to be economically refined.

How did China gain control of rare earths?

  • China has gradually gained global dominance in rare earths, and at one point produced 90% of the rare earths required by the world.
  • However, it has now dropped to 60%, with the remainder produced by other countries, including the Quad (Australia, India, Japan and United States).
  • Since 2010, when China restricted shipments of Rare Earths to Japan, the United States, and Europe, production units in Australia and the United States have emerged, along with smaller units in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
  • Nonetheless, China has the lion's share of processed Rare Earths.

What is India's current Rare Earth Policy?

  • The Bureau of Mines and the Department of Atomic Energy have conducted exploration in India.
  • Mining and processing were previously handled by a few minor private players, but are now handled by Indian Rare Earths Limited(IREL), a Public Sector Undertaking under the Department of Atomic Energy.
  • In India, government corporations such as IREL have a monopoly on the primary mineral containing Rare Earth Elemants: monazite beach sand, which is found in many coastal states.
  • IREL manufactures rare earth oxides (low-cost, low-reward "upstream processes") and sells them to foreign companies that extract metals and manufacture end products (high-cost, high-reward "downstream processes") elsewhere.
  • The primary goal of IREL is to supply the Department of Atomic Energy with thorium extracted from monazite.

Way Forward

  • India should learn from other advanced economies about how they plan to secure their mineral needs and attempt to join multinational fora on ensuring critical mineral supply chains - or use existing partnerships, such as Quad and BIMSTEC, to foster such dialogues.
  • There must also be top-level government decision-making to strategize on how to create vertically integrated supply chains of green technology manufacturing, or we risk falling far short of our climate change mitigation targets.
  • India should establish a new Department for Rare Earths (DRE) to act as a regulator and enabler for businesses in this sector.

Source: The Hindu


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