China Bans Rare Earth Sales To Japan; Japan Starts Serious Recycling


Image credit: China Daily

Alex previously wrote about concerns as China Tightens Grasp on Rare Earth Metals Vital for Green Technologies; now we are seeing it in action. After a dispute over a collision between the Japanese Coast Guard and a Chinese fishing boat on September 7, the Chinese cut off exports of rare earths to Japan. The dispute was settled yesterday, but the repercussions are many. One Japanese response: start recycling and mining the dumps.


Image via Chinasmack

Hiroko Tabuchi writes in the New York Times about how recycling has suddenly become become critical to Japan's high tech industries.

The cutoff has caused hand-wringing at Japanese manufacturers, from giants like Toyota to tiny electronics makers, because the raw materials are crucial to products as diverse as hybrid electric cars, wind turbines and computer display screens....

Kosaka Smelting and Refining, has so far successfully reclaimed rare metals like indium, used in liquid-crystal display screens, and antimony, used in silicon wafers for semiconductors. The company is trying to develop ways to reclaim the harder-to-mine minerals included among the rare earths -- like neodymium, a vital element in industrial batteries used in electric motors, and dysprosium, used in laser materials.

The dispute with China is settled now, but the lessons and repercussions are being felt around the world. Rare earths are not found exclusively in China; as Alex noted in his post,

It was the country's [China's] tolerance for quick and dirty extraction that made it the global leader. To get at the rare earth, powerful acid is pumped down bore holes, where it dissolves some of the earths. The slurry is then pumped into leaky artificial ponds with earthen dams. Much of this occurs at small, under-regulated or unlicensed mines.

However they are also found in South Africa, Canada and Australia; they just won't be as cheap. That's a good thing; as we saw in the last resource boom before the recession, recovering metals through recycling is profitable when the prices of raw materials are high.

This dispute was a shot across the bow: Start recycling like the Japanese or we could be in the same boat.

More on Rare Earths and China:

China Tightens Grasp on Rare Earth Metals Vital for Green Technologies
Goodbye Fossil Fuel Dependence, Hello Rare Earth Dependence!
Dysprosium: Achilles Heel Of Hybrid, EV, & Wind Turbine Designs

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