Is the Quad collaborating on the production of Rare Earth Elements?

To end China’s monopoly in the sector of rare earth elements, the Quad, which includes – India, Australia, the United States, and Japan, are working together to collaborate to shed dependence on China. This move is an attempt not only to check China’s influence but also to be self-reliant in acquiring rare earth elements.

These elements are extremely critical as they are used in high-end devices like the smart phones, laptops, cameras, telescopes, electric car batteries and other consumer products. The rare earth elements usage is also found in weapon systems as well. Here we will know about what has led QUAD to do such a collaboration and few details about the participating countries with regards to rare earth.

Rare Earth Elements: 17 strategic elements

There are 17 strategic rare earth elements available, critical to producing a range of electronic gadgets to weapon systems. These elements are found in laptops, electric car batteries, missile guiding systems, mobile phones, lasers, and other equipment. According to the reports of Sydney Morning Herald, “There are 0.15 grams of palladium (a rare earth metal) in an iPhone, 472 kilograms of combined rare earth in an F-35 fighter jet and four tonnes in a Virginia-class submarine.” The 17 strategic rare earth elements are given below:

Lanthanum, Cerium, Neodymium, Promethium, Samarium, Praseodymium, Europium, Gadolinium, Terbium, Dysprosium, Holmium, Erbium, Thulium, Ytterbium, Scandium, Lutetium, and Yttrium. To know more about their uses, check here.

China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Elements

China contributes to over 95 percent of the world’s total production of rare earth elements. Out of 99 million tonnes of rare earth reserve deposits, China holds 30 percent of reserves. China is having a monopoly in procuring and processing of rare earth minerals. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and a trade war between the US and China, Beijing has indicated that they may deny the supply of these critical elements to Washington. Also, Beijing’s relations with Australia, Japan, and now India are not great either. Hence, the Quad countries are looking forward to breaking this monopoly and becoming self-reliant in processing rare earth elements.

QUAD’S initiatives towards Rare Earth Elements

Australia is believed to be one of the largest producers of rare elements after China and the USA. But still it is way behind than China  in production capacity. Last year, the country produced 21,000 MT of rare elements compared to China’s 132,000 MT. But, now the country is playing a pivotal role in liberating top democracies in the region from China’s influence on rare earth elements. This move can be seen as stopping China’s arm-twisting through business to gain political control. The tables may turn with the QUAD now cooperating in this matter. Australia is mounting serious efforts to reduce the gap with China.

Rare Earth Elements – Australia’s Initiatives

Currently, four Australian companies have rare earth projects. Three of these companies are in Australia, while the fourth one is located in Tanzania. These companies aim to ferret neodymium-praseodymium, which is a combination of rare earth metals. These particular metals provide permanent strength magnets.

These super magnets are used extensively in the engines of electric vehicles. Funds are allocated for further exploration in Australia along with two huge 2500 kilometer long corridors. Australia, in June, had signed an initial agreement to supply critical minerals to India. This will help India to make a transition towards a new energy economy. Australian Resources Minister Keith Pitt said that Australia has the potential to become India’s top supplier of zircon and cobalt.

Rare earth elements like antimony, lithium, and tantalum could also be added to the list. According to Mr. Pitt, India offers tremendous opportunities for rare earth minerals as the country looks to become “Atmanirbhar” in the manufacturing sector. India aims to move completely towards electric vehicles by 2030. The deal follows after a major military logistics pact between Australia and India in a view to counter China.

Australia has also apparently inked a deal for rare earth elements with the US. Lynas, an Australian miner of rare earth minerals, will process them in a facility located in Texas. This will be done in partnership with the Pentagon. Along with this, another Australian company Syrah has started a production line in the state of Louisiana, the USA, to transform graphite into superconductor graphene. Graphene is used in electric automobiles.

Australia has also partnered with Japan in the domain of rare earth elements following a spat between Tokyo and Beijing over the islands of the East China Sea. Fearing about the technology industries could be compromised, Japan considered investing in the mountains of Mount Weld, Western Australia. This site is one of the richest deposits of rare minerals.

Rare Earth Elements – Where the USA stands?

Though the United States of America produced 26,000 MT of rare earth elements last year. This is nothing compared to China’s production capacity. Also, there are huge requirements of these elements in the field of Defense, Space, Research, and other electronic products, the country has to import huge volumes of critical elements. 

Rare Earth Elements – Japanese Initiatives

With the help of funding from the government of Japan, Sojitz, a Japanese trading company, inked a 250 million USD deal for the supply of rare earth elements from the site. Australian firm Lynas is thinking over-investing in the construction of a processing plant in Kuantan, Malaysia. Recently, Lynas has also extended a 10-year loan on much easier terms with its powerful Japanese consortium.

With the extension of loan repayment until 2030, the company can now relocate its controversial facility to process rare earth minerals from Malaysia to somewhere near Mount Weld mine in Western Australia.

Where India stands in Rare Earth Elements?

Well, India has never exploited it’s vast reserves of rare earth elements that the country has. The country holds about 35% of the total beach sand mineral deposits in the world. These are significant sources of rare earths. Still in 2019 the production of such minerals in India was just 3,000 MT. This is one of the reasons why India still is unable to manufacture smartphones, laptops and high-end gadgets yet.

As of now only IREL (India) Limited (Formally Indian Rare Earths Limited) is doing the job of processing the elements to produce –  ilmenite, rutile, zircon, monazite, sillimanite, and garnet. The Indian Government has recently struck a deal with Australian counterpart for procurement of critical rare earth minerals. Hopefully, more such deals and more participation by Indian companies will likely to happen in days to come.

With no more dependence on the critical rare earth elements from China is acceptable, the Indo-Pacific nations have decided to partner in establishing their own dedicated supply chains without any influence from Beijing.

Just recently, trade ministries in Japan, India, and Australia agreed to produce details of a new network of the supply chain with regards to rare earth minerals. The QUAD has also invited other nations in the region with similar views to join the initiative with regards to explorations and processing of rare earth minerals. 

The ministers of the three nations (India, Japan, and Australia) have agreed to reach out to pursue the ASEAN countries to participate in exploration and producing critical resources, including rare earth elements, in its next step to cut off Beijing’s influence. 


 

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