The Hot Zone
China's newly announced air defense identification zone over the East China Sea aims to shore up national security
Current Issue
· Table of Contents
· Editor's Desk
· Previous Issues
· Subscribe to Mag
Subscribe Now >>
Weekly Watch
Expert's View
Market Watch
North American Report
Government Documents
Expat's Eye
Photo Gallery
Reader's Service
Learning with
'Beijing Review'
E-mail us
RSS Feeds
PDF Edition
Reader's Letters
Make Beijing Review your homepage
Hot Links

cheap eyeglasses
Market Avenue

Special> Rare Earth Export Regulation> Background
UPDATED: August 29, 2012 NO. 27, JULY 5, 2012
Current Situation of China's Rare Earth Industry

Rare earths are a group of 17 chemical elements in the periodic table of the elements, i.e., Lanthanum (La), Cerium (Ce), Praseodymium (Pr), Neodymium (Nd), Promethium (Pm), Samarium (Sm), Europium (Eu), Gadolinium (Gd), Terbium (Tb), Dysprosium (Dy), Holmium (Ho), Erbium (Er), Thulium (Tm), Ytterbium (Yb) and Lutecium (Lu) and their congeners Scandium (Sc) and Yttrium (Y). According to their atomic weights and physicochemical properties, they are divided into light, middle and heavy rare earth elements. The first five above-mentioned elements are light ones and the rest are either middle or heavy ones. Because of their unique physicochemical properties, rare earth elements are considered indispensable in modern industry as they are extensively used in areas such as new energy, new materials, energy conservation and environmental protection, aeronautics and astronautics and electronic information, to name but a few.

China is relatively abundant in rare earth resources, and its rare earth reserves account for approximately 23 percent of the world's total. China's rare earth resources display the following characteristics:

- Their distribution presents a "light north, heavy south" pattern. Light rare earth mines are mainly located in Baotou of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and other northern areas, as well as in Liangshan of Sichuan Province, while ion-absorbed-type middle and heavy rare earth deposits are mainly found in Ganzhou of Jiangxi Province, Longyan of Fujian Province and some other southern areas.

- The types of rare earth resources are rather diversified. China has a rich variety of rare earth minerals, including bastnaesite, monazite, ion-absorption minerals, xenotime, fergusonite and others, with a relatively complete range of rare earth elements. Among them, the ion-absorption middle and heavy rare earth deposits occupy an important position in the world.

- The associated radioactive elements of light rare earth minerals pose major problems for the environment. Most of China's light rare earth deposits can be industrially mined, but thorium (Th) and other radioactive elements are difficult to treat, and therefore great attention must be paid to its impact on people's health and the ecology when they are mined, smelted and separated.

- Ion-absorption middle and heavy rare earth ores have poor occurrence conditions. In ion-absorbed-type rare earth deposits, the rare earth elements are absorbed in the soil in the form of ions, making it difficult for industrial exploitation due to sparse distribution and low abundance rate.

Since the introduction of the reform and opening-up policies in the late 1970s, China's rare earth industry has seen rapid development. Major progress has been made in the research and development of relevant mining, smelting and utilizing technologies, and the increasing expansion of the industrial scale has basically satisfied the needs of the nation's economic growth and social development.

- A complete industrial system has been achieved. China has developed three major rare earth production areas, i.e., the light rare earth production areas in Baotou of Inner Mongolia and Liangshan of Sichuan, and middle and heavy rare earth production areas in the five southern provinces centering around Ganzhou of Jiangxi Province. With a complete industrial system armed with mining, dressing, smelting and separating technologies and incorporating equipment manufacturing, material processing and end-product utilization, China can produce over 400 varieties of rare earth products in more than 1,000 specifications. In 2011, China produced 96,900 tons of rare earth smelting separation products, accounting for more than 90 percent of the world's total output.

- The market environment is gradually improving as China is constantly expediting reform in the rare earth industry, promoting the development of a market system featuring diversified investment, independent decision-making by businesses and pricing according to supply and demand. In recent years, investment in China's rare earth industry has experienced rapid growth, the market has been constantly expanded, state-owned, privately owned and foreign-invested sectors coexist, and the value of the rare earth metal market is approaching 100 billion yuan ($15.9 billion). The market order in this sector is gradually improving, and progressive development is being made in the merger and reorganization of businesses. The old picture of a "small, scattered and disorderly" rare earth industry has vanished.

- Scientific and technological level has improved further. After many years of development, China has established a relatively complete R&D system, pioneered numerous technologies of international advanced levels in rare earth mining and dressing, smelting, separating, etc., and its unique mining and dressing processes and advanced separating techniques have laid a solid foundation for efficient exploitation and utilization of rare earth resources. The rare earth new materials industry has experienced steady development, and industrialization has been achieved in using rare earths to produce permanent-magnet, luminescent, hydrogen-storage, catalytic and other new materials, providing support for the restructuring and upgrading of traditional industries, and the development of emerging industries of strategic importance.

The rapid development of China's rare earth industry has not only satisfied domestic demand for economic and social development, but also made important contributions to the world's rare earth supply. For many years, China has been faithfully fulfilling its pledges upon its accession to the WTO, honoring the WTO rules, and promoting fair trade in rare earth. Currently, China supplies over 90 percent of the global market rare earth needs with 23 percent of the world's total reserves, its output of permanent-magnet, luminescent, hydrogen-storage and polishing materials, which use rare earths as raw materials, accounts for more than 70 percent of the world's total, and China-produced rare earth materials, parts and components, as well as rare earth end products, such as energy-saving lamps, special and small electric motors and NiMH batteries, satisfied the development needs of hi-tech industries of other countries, especially those of the developed countries.

Despite its rapid development, China's rare earth industry also faces many problems, for which China has paid a big price. The following are some of the problems:

- Excessive exploitation of rare earth resources. After more than 50 years of excessive mining, China's rare earth reserves have kept declining and the years of guaranteed rare earth supply have been reducing. The decline of rare earth resources in major mining areas is accelerating, as most of the original resources are depleted. In Baotou, only one third of the original volume of rare earth resources is available in the main mining areas, and the reserve-extraction ratio of ion-absorption rare earth mines in China's southern provinces has declined from 50 two decades ago to the present 15. Most of the southern ion-absorption rare earth deposits are located in remote mountainous areas. There are so many mines scattering over a large area that it is difficult and costly to monitor their operation. As a result, illegal mining has severely depleted local resources, and mines rich in reserves and easy to exploit are favored over the others, resulting in a low recovery rate of the rare earth resources. Less that 50 percent of such resources are recovered in ion-absorption rare earth mines in southern China, and only 10 percent of the Baotou reserves are dressed and utilized.

1   2   Next  

Top Story
-Protecting Ocean Rights
-Partners in Defense
-Fighting HIV+'s Stigma
-HIV: Privacy VS. Protection
-Setting the Tone
Most Popular
About BEIJINGREVIEW | About beijingreview.com | Rss Feeds | Contact us | Advertising | Subscribe & Service | Make Beijing Review your homepage
Copyright Beijing Review All right reserved