- The consolidation of industries at the national level
The mining of rare earths is accompanied by serious environmental problems, and because of this, the major countries that used to supply rare earths have abandoned this industry due to environmental concerns.
For example, rare earth mining at the Mountain Pass Mine in the United States was subject to federal investigations and local lawsuits in the 1980s and 1990s for emissive waste emissions, and was fined and compensated. Due to the high environmental costs associated with rare earth processing, the rare earth ores from the Muntin Pass mine were shipped to China for processing. Only after May 2019, the United States began to build rare earth processing capabilities in the country.
And China in the 90’s was dedicated to construction, and its legislation on environmental protection was not strict. Internal and external factors ultimately contributed to the vigorous development of China’s rare earth industry. As the economy continues to grow, the public is paying more and more attention to environmental protection, so the government has started to rectify and reform the rare earth mining industry.
Lin Boqiang, Director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen told the Global Times that China has no obligation to be a “rare earth supplier” to the world, China’s rare earth must ensure the safety of the supply chain and the sustainable development of the environment.
Bloomberg reported that the Weld Hill mine in Australia and the Mount Pleasant mine in California now produce a quarter of the world’s rare earths, while China’s market share of global rare earths supply has fallen from 98% in 2010 to 58% in 2020, and the cheap rare earths are gone forever.
- The development of emerging industries
Rare earths are not rare, but extremely versatile, and are essential raw materials for the production of high-tech consumer electronics and military products. Cell phones, electric cars, aircraft turbine engines, and missile guidance systems are all dependent on them. Meanwhile the rapid development of electric vehicles in recent years has been regarded as one of the most important application areas for rare earth products.
Most countries have been promoting green energy in the past few years and plan to stop selling new gasoline and diesel cars.
For example, the UK once announced a policy that no diesel or gasoline cars would be allowed to be sold by 2040, later they changed the time to 2035, and late last year they revised the policy to ban the sale of diesel or gasoline cars as of 2030.
In recent years, the sales of electric vehicles in China have also been increasing year by year. For example, China Great Wall Motor increased production by about 152% year-on-year in February 2021. And from January to February 2021, BYD Auto’s sales of new energy vehicles climbed 207.3% year-on-year.
The biggest problem facing the rapid development of electric vehicles in the next few years is the supply of rare earth products, especially heavy rare earth products, needed to produce permanent magnets.