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UPDATED: February 23, 2012
China to Develop Rare-Earth Based New Materials

China will develop rare-earth-based new materials during the 2011-2015 period, in an effort to boost manufacturing capacity, according to a five-year plan for the new materials industry released on Wednesday.

The government will "make full use of its rare earth resources to expand the industrial scale of new materials made with rare earth," said the publication by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The government will focus on developing rare earth functional materials, increasing efforts to improve performances of new materials made with rare earth, promote its application in high-end manufacturing, and increase product added-value, the plan said.

Rare earth metals are a group of 17 elements that are widely used in high-tech products, including flat-screen televisions, lasers and hybrid cars.

The plan aims to promote the application rate of production technologies for rare earth functional materials to 70 percent in the country's high-tech industries by 2015, it said.

It also set goals to increase the output capacity for rare earth permanent magnet materials by 20,000 tons a year and that of rare earth hydrogen-containing alloy powder by 15,000 tons a year.

Rare earth permanent magnet materials, which have rare earth elements in their composition, are widely used in electrical motors, medical treatment and spaceflight, while hydrogen-containing alloy powder is used in high-performance batteries.

The plan also sets higher output goals for a range of other new materials that contain rare earth metals.

Production bases for rare earth functional materials will be mainly built in Beijing, Baotou City in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Ganzhou City in Jiangxi Province, Liangshan and Leshan in Sichuan Province, Longyan in Fujian Province and Ningbo in Zhejiang Province, the plan said.

While pledging policy supports to accomplish the goals, the plan also stresses efforts to protect energy resources and promote integrated utilization by developing reproducible resource technologies.

China's rare earth sales account for nearly 90 percent of the global total, but its reserves only account for one-third of the world's total. Decades of excessive exploitation has resulted in serious environmental damage.

To promote healthy development of the industry, China has suspended the issuance of new licenses for prospecting and mining and adopted production caps, export quotas and stringent environmental standards, while launching crackdowns on illegal mining activities.

China set the 2012 rare earth export quota at basically the same level of 2011. Its rare earth exports totaled 14,750 tons during the first 11 months of 2011, accounting for only 49 percent of the total quota.

The plan, which maps out development of the nation's new material industry, prioritizes the development of six types of advanced materials, including special metal functional materials, high-end metal structural materials, advanced macromolecular materials, new inorganic non-metal materials, high performance composite materials and frontier new materials.

The plan targets a 2-trillion-yuan ($318 billion) output in the country's new material industry by 2015. The industry's output value stood at 650 billion yuan ($103 billion) in 2010, growing by an annual rate of 20 percent since 2005.

(Xinhua News Agency February 22, 2012)

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