By Adam Currie — Exclusive to Rare Earth Investing News
The World Trade Organization's (WTO) investigation into China's rare earth export policies has brought a traditionally “undercover” sector into the global media spotlight. Over the past week the rare earth elements (REEs) market has been a hive of activity with news that surging prices and supply constraints had led to a meeting of organizations and scientists hoping to share their progress on developing more affordable rare earth alternatives.
Mark Johnson, program director at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), recently told National Geographic that his team's objective is "inventing our way around any critical dependence on rare-earth materials.”
ARPA-E was set up to fund transformational energy innovation in the US, and was one of the participants in a trilateral EU-Japan-US conference focused on research into REE alternatives that took place in Tokyo last week. While some argue that the WTO's investigation into quotas will move forward too slowly, others are forecasting that scientists might very well hit breakthroughs that will circumvent China's REE market and win greater rare earth metal independence for their respective countries. An example of such progress is already underway at the University of Delaware, where Professor George C. Hadjipanayis, who co-invented the strongest rare earth magnet 30 years ago, is leading a team of scientists in an ARPA-E project to create magnets that are less dependent on REEs. Hadjipanayis is attempting to create a magnet that has more than twice the strength of the neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) magnet he invented, and 30 to 40 percent less rare earth metal than current permanent magnets have, by mixing a rare earth metal with a non-rare-earth magnetic metal at nano-scale.
In agreementUS Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the conference that improving the processing and recycling of rare earth materials, which are used in many of today's high tech products, is vital in the medium term, adding that in the near term they must be "used as sparingly as you can." Japan's trade minister, Yukio Edano, commented, "[i]t is important the consuming countries and supplying countries...develop a global supply chain so that we are not dependent on one source." Hans Dietmar Schweistgut, the European Union (EU) ambassador to Japan, told attendees that looking to the long term, more attention has shifted toward supply-chain security, with many officials repeatedly underlining that more needs to be done to ensure that relationships are built and maintained with other producing nations, including Australia and Canada. Market price update Chinese erbium oxide prices rallied last week with market indicators showing that 99 percent erbium oxide prices rose 20 percent on last week's quotes. It is now being offered in a range of RMB550,000 to RMB580,000 per tonne. Dysprosium oxide prices recorded a gain of 13 percent to close the week's trading at RMB3,600-RMB3,800 per kilogram. Samarium prices remained flat throughout last week at RMB270,000/tonne, while neodymium recorded the largest gain at 21 percent, to close at RMB 550,000-RMB 580,000/tonne. Company news Avalon Rare Metals Inc. (TSX: AVL) provided an update on progress on the Nechalacho REEs feasibility study, situated in Thor Lake, Northwest Territories. According to a press release, work on the study is progressing steadily and remains on target for completion at the end of 2012. Project permitting is proceeding on schedule, and it is anticipated that the necessary permits will be in place to allow construction activities to begin midway through 2013. The mineral resource update to incorporate all Nechalacho drilling data is being assessed and is expected to be finalized in April 2012.
Junior mining newsNamibia Rare Earths Inc. (TSX: NRE) has received results from the first 15 holes completed in the Area 4 resource drilling program on the Lofdal Rare Earth Project in Northwestern Namibia. According to the company, a total of 38 holes have been completed for approximately 4,500 meters, including two large diameter core holes designed to obtain representative samples of the mineralized zone for metallurgical test purposes. Drill intercepts are highlighted by an intercept of seven meters of 1.14 percent total rare earth oxides with 90.6 percent heavy rare earth enrichment. The resource program is on schedule for completion by the end of April, with delivery of the NI 43-101 compliant mineral resource report scheduled for the third quarter of 2012. Hastings Rare Metals Ltd. (ASX: HAS) has become a new corporate member of the Rare Earth Industry and Technology Association (REITA), which it hopes will benefit the development of its heavy rare earth project in Western Australia. The company's technical director, Steve Mackowski, commented that "[i]t is a global responsibility to develop the dysprosium and yttrium industries to maximise the societal benefit that these minerals present.” “In co-operation with leaders like REITA, we can develop the heavy rare earth potential of Hastings, achieving financial, social and environmental objectives.” The Hastings Project has a JORC resource of 36.2 million tonnes at 0.21 percent total rare earth oxides, 0.35 percent niobium, and 0.89 percent zanthium. Securities Disclosure: I, Adam Currie, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article. Trilateral Conference Focused on REE Alternatives from Rare Earth Investing News