Kazakh, Japanese companies to produce rare-earth metals

November 10. Central Asia Newswire

Kazakh, Japanese companies to produce rare-earth metalsMiners in Kazakhstan are preparing to begin production of rare earth metals after the world’s top producer China cut back on exports and global prices surged.

Prices for rare earths have soared by as much as 700 percent in the last six months. In July China, which supplies more than 90 percent of the world’s rare metals, slashed its 2010 second-half export quota by 72 percent to cater to burgeoning domestic needs, the Bloomberg news agency reported on Wednesday.

The Chinese move hit Japan particularly hard, prompting Tokyo to turn to Kazakhstan as a supplier of rare earths for its global high-tech companies that produce hybrid cars, hard drives of laptops, televisions, BlackBerrys and headphones.

The Kazakhstan-Japan joint venture Summit Atom Rare Earth Co. earlier this year announced plans to begin a pilot project around the end of 2011 to produce rare earths from the radioactive waste byproduct of uranium mining, known as uranium tailings.

Japan consumes around 40,000 tons of the metal products annually.

“For main applications like rare-earth magnets and glass catalysts, the (demand) increase is from 10 to 15 percent a year,” the news agency cited Summit Atom’s Deputy Director of General Affairs Yerzhan Ishanov as saying.

The Kazakh-Japan venture plans to initially supply Japan with 1,100 tons of mineral concentrates annually, but then increase its production to between 10,000 and 15,000 tons by 2014-15.

Analysts project global demand for rare earth metals to rise from 125,000 tons in 2010 to 225,000 by 2015.

Summit Atom is a venture between Kazakhstan’s state-owned nuclear company Kazatomprom and Japanese trade conglomerate Sumitomo Corp.