Tuesday, January 26, 2021

New Rare Earth Projects Help Australia Decouple From China Supply Reliance

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In the past week, two local rare earth mining firms have advanced key projects that will see Australia progress towards its goal of decoupling rare earth supply chains away from Chinese ownership.

In November last year, the Australian government signalled its intent to firm up the security of both nations by signing an agreement with the United States to begin exchanging information on critical minerals and establishing supply chains. Since then a flurry of new projects have started or been fast-tracked by the government.

This comes against the backdrop of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) estimated control over 62.9 percent of global rare earth production. Rare earth minerals are integral to the manufacture of high-tech products including fibre-optic cables, magnets, lithium batteries, and military equipment.

Concerns have been mounting that the CCP will leverage its control of rare earth in the event of a geopolitical dispute.

Hastings Project: From Mines to Magnets

On June 17, Perth-based Hastings Technology Metals received government approval for the construction of its Yangibana Rare Earths Project in Western Australia (WA), subject to satisfying environmental conditions.

The plant will process rare earth minerals neodymium and praseodymium.

Both minerals are vital components in the manufacture of permanent magnets used in wind turbines, robotics, and electric vehicles.

Wind turbines are viewed at a wind farm on March 27, 2015 in Taft, Texas. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The extraction and processing of rare earth is a complex and costly process that can result in large amounts of excess polluting chemicals.

In China authorities have in the past been able to leverage the country’s loose environmental and pollution controls, to lower the cost of their minerals and compete with western firms. The cost to local Chinese towns however has been devastating, with excess pollution, damaged agricultural land, and serious health concerns in neighbouring towns.

Andrew Reid, chief operating officer of Hastings in WA said in an announcement, “The regulatory…

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