Korea lines up supply of rare earths

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Korea lines up supply of rare earths

Korea has secured supply channels and emergency reserves to cope with immediate shortfalls in rare earth elements that are vital for its industries, the government said yesterday.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said despite uncertainties caused by the United States, Europe and Japan reporting China to the World Trade Organization for unfairly controlling the export of rare earth elements, Korea will struggle to meet demand.

The rare earth elements are 17 materials in the periodic table, such as scandium, neodymium and yttrium. Though none but promethium are truly rare, they are usually so thinly dispersed on the earth’s crust that they are difficult to exploit economically.

State-run Korea Resources has secured 1,000 tons of the elements through two joint venture projects in China, the ministry said. KORES has also reached a deal to develop 6,000 tons of materials in South Africa.

The ministry in charge of the country’s industrial policy added the country is moving to increase its rare earth reserves to meet 100 days of local demand by 2014, from just 10.8 days this year. The country has earmarked 11.4 billion won ($10 million) to increase its strategic reserves in 2012.

Last year, Asia’s fourth-largest economy imported 3,596 tons of the rare earth elements worth $203 million. This is a 9.4 percent on-year gain in volume and 245.1 percent spike in import cost. They are used to make magnets, fluorescence, grinders and catalysts as well as being key materials in the making of mobile phones, rechargeable batteries and electric cars.

Kim Jun-dong, the head of the ministry’s climate change energy development bureau, said Seoul is committed to research and development efforts to re-use the elements and find ways to better refine the materials from nature without causing environmental damage.


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