Australia eyes rare earth deposits amid fears over China supplies

 

 

Australia will step up production of rare earths and other militarily sensitive “tech metals”, the country’s defence minister said Monday, as doubts grow over the reliability of Chinese supplies.

Linda Reynolds told an audience in Perth that resource-rich Australia had deposits that could safeguard supplies for allies including the United States and Britain.

So-called tech minerals are used in everything from smartphones and lasers to avionic systems and electronic warfare technologies. But trade tensions have led China to warn that supplies of could be choked.

READ MORE: Rare earths are the latest weapon in the US-China trade war

China produces more than 95% of the world’s rare earths, and the United States relies on it for upwards of 80% of its imports.

Reynolds stressed the importance of Western allies obtaining the metals from outside China.

“[In] Australia we have at least 40% of the known reserves of tech metals, whether it’s lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite but also most of the rare earths that our current technology and our lifestyles today relies on,” she said.

She added that it had been discussed at length at recent Australia–US ministerial consultations and in discussions with British counterparts.

“What we want to do is make sure we have a guarantee of supply,” she told reporters in Perth.

“A lot of our defence equipment and capability actually uses rare earths in its production.”

The key issue for Australia, the US and other allies “is the continuity and guarantee of supply of these rare earths and tech metals as they’re now called is an issue of national importance”, she said.

Jeffrey Wilson, head of research at the Perth USAsia Centre, said there is roughly $350-million global trade in rare earths per year, with China also having a disproportionate share of processed products such as carbonates and magnets.

In the case of dysprosium — which can be used in magnets for electric vehicles or nuclear reactor rods — it is 100%.

“China’s near monopoly means there’s no real genuine or reliable international market for rare earths trade,” Wilson said.

“Its outsize market power also gives the Chinese government considerable scope to control and shape global trade patterns,” he added.

Reynolds’ comments followed news of a deal between German industrial giant Thyssenkrupp and a mining company developing a rare earths project in northern Australia.

Sydney-listed Northern Minerals announced Thyssenkrupp Materials Trading would take 100% of the heavy rare earth carbonate from its Aus$56-million Browns Range pilot plant project.

Northern Minerals had earlier terminated a two-year-old agreement with a Chinese firm.

The Australian company aims to develop the world’s first significant producer of dysprosium outside of China.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Agency
External source
Advertisting

The rule of law in times of crisis: Covid-19 and...

Under a state of national disaster, some rights may be suspended. But it is critical to remember that the Constitution itself is not suspended

Test backlog skews SA’s corona stats

With thousands of samples still waiting to be processed, labs are racing to ramp up testing to help the government gain a better idea of how prevalent Covid-19 really is

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories