This is rare

To read a newspaper article on something you know about and to finish it going, yes, he\’s got a decent grip on the subject there.

It\’s Ambrose E_P on the subject of China and rare earths. Yes, they supply 97% of the world, yes, they\’re restricting export and yes everyone\’s getting worried about it. Which is why all sorts of companies are looking for new sources. Perhaps new mines or perhaps extracting them from something which is already mined.

We\’re doing the latter and might have something interesting to say about that in a year or so.

However, if anyone wants to come and play in this sand pit in the hopes of making money I\’d advise a note of caution. There are plenty of known places where you can get mixed rare earths: ore really isn\’t the thing that\’s in short supply. It\’s being able to separate them which is the real lock that China has on the market.

And that, I think, is where someone could at least attempt to make some serious money. Designing a new method of separation. The current technology uses hundreds and, for some of them, thousands, of iterations of dissolving in acid and recrystalising. Something which either side=stepped or reduced this process would be very welcome indeed.

There are a couple of interesting ideas about how to do this out there in the ether and if anyone has a few hundred thousand they\’d like to throw at some basic research then, well, my email\’s here on the blog if you want to get in contact……

4 thoughts on “This is rare”

  1. It’s being able to separate them which is the real lock that China has on the market.

    What is the particular advantage here in China? Lower labour costs? Less stringent environmental regulation? Existing infrastructure for doing this, which no-one else has been bothered to invest in? In other words, even without a new, better process, what is stopping others from doing this in say Australia or South Africa?

    Tim adds: “Existing infrastructure for doing this, which no-one else has been bothered to invest in?”

    Correct. Anyone with a couple of hundred million can build one. But given that the technology used is about 30 years old I’m pretty sure there’s a better way possible.

  2. A couple of hundred million? That all? Given the importance of access to these rare earths, perhaps one could persuade the US government to fund re-opening some of the old US plants, if normal market fund raising fails. They, or even the likes of EPSRC here, may also be willing to fund research on improving the process.

  3. I have no specific knowledge about metallurgic refining processes, but I only recently realized that an energetic Finnish engineer set up a corporation, from scratch, in just about five years, to utilize a new biological refining technology called bioheapleaching, to enrich low-yield ores to produce nickel, copper, zinc, cobalt and now even uranium.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talvivaara

    I do realize that the mentioned metals are not rare earths, but given that such a diverse set of metals can now be enriched, it is not inconceivable that very similar derived technologies could extract europium, cerium, and lanthanum, etc.

    So, it seems to me that some basic research has been done and it is possible to move rather quickly, if necessary. Though it might require that there are sulphides present in the ore (I understand that these are used by the bacteria in such a way that the plant produces its own heat to keep processes active even in extreme winter conditions of Talvivaara).

    As said, I’m not a mine engineer and could be miles off. But this is enough to make me think that where there’s a need, means will be developed.

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