China's Cornering of Rare Earth Minerals Seen As Harbinger
Tuesday, October 23 2012
By Rebecca Day
The National Mining Association put a faster permitting process for rare earth mineralsmining at the top of its mission-critical list, NMA spokeswoman Carol Raulston told us. Thatday was the first annual Manufacturing Day, co-sponsored by NMA.
“On the mineral side,we’re the beginning of the supply chain for so many products manufactured in the U.S.,”
said, “but because of an inefficient permitting system in this country it takes
three to four times longer to get a permit here than it does in Canada or Australia or other
countries around the world.”
The urgency to cut the time it takes to bring a mine online
stems largely from China’srestrictions on exports of rare earths, a “harbinger of what could follow,”
expressing NMA’s concern that India and Brazil and other countries will follow suit.
cited China’s cornering of the market on rare earths such as neodymium, used in the
manufacturing of magnets for smartphones, loudspeakers and wind turbines, which causedprices for those magnets to skyrocket last year.
“You’ve seen tremendous fluctuation invarious rare earths because of China’s back
forth trade practices,” she said.
As electronic devices become more sophisticated
, there’s more need for “these kinds of exotic materials,” Raulston said.
Early cellphones used 12 different minerals inmanufacturing, compared with smartphones today that use more than 40, she said, andTVs require 35 different minerals. The concerns also extend to base minerals such ascopper, she said.
“Even if copper demand only grows at 2 percent annually,” which shesaid was a conservative estimate, “it will be hard for production to keep up with thatdemand.”
It takes seven to 10 years for a new mine to pass the permitting process in the U.S.,Raulston said. In Canada and Australia, the process takes two to three years, and in Chile,a large copper producer, it takes 18 months, she said. As a result, the U.S. is only meetinghalf of its domestic manufacturing needs for metals and minerals, Raulston said.
huge internal demand for metals and minerals to build out its own infrastructure, along withrestrictions on rare earth exports, has led the global marketplace for raw materials to
become “much more competitive,” she said.
The NMA strongly supports the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Product Act (HR-4402), passed by the U.S. House this past summer, which would expedite the time it takesto get a mining approved by putting timelines on various stages in the permittingprocess. Companies have to do a lot of modeling to get permits to mine, thespokeswoman said.
“If you’ve done modeling for the federal or state government, the other