China halves rare earth output

China halves rare earth output

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

China has set 2013 production quotas for rare earths metals at half of last year's volume, triggering renewed worries of price spikes and material shortages.

According to a report from Bloomberg, the Chinese government set the first of two production quotas for 2013 at approximately 53,000 tons of ore. Output quotas for the rest of the year will be announced in the second quarter.

Demand for rare earths has declined as a result of new recycling technologies and substitutes, such as those pursued by companies such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. While rare earth metals are essential to the manufacture of electronic components such as silicon wafers, circuit board components, and batteries, little investment had been made in recycling technologies to capture the material stream until several years ago. Since 2007, China has limited production limits and curbed exports of the rare earths. Currently, the U.S. and Japan are challenging China's restrictions on the export of the metals.

Ongoing shortages and uncertainty over the availability of resources from China (which controls an estimated 95 percent of the world's available rare earth supply) has incentivized new research into ways to recycle rare earth metals from discarded electronics. The U.S. Department of Energy, for instance, recently awarded $120 million to Ames National Lab for efforts designed to avert a supply deficiency for rare earth metals. An important aspect of ANL's new Critical Materials Hub will be research projects focused on rare metals recovery and recycling processes.

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