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China combats illegal recycling of rare earths

China – China has begun a crackdown on the unauthorised mining, selling and recycling of rare earth metals, reports ‘China Daily’. The initiative is scheduled to run until November 15.

It has been estimated that illegal rare earth ore production in China – the world’s top producer – grew to 40 000 tons in 2012, with government officials seizing 14 illegal shipments between 2011 and 2012, as well as closing 14 illegal mines. Exports from the country steadily declined between 2009 and 2012; however, despite setting 2013 production quotas that are half of 2012 levels, rare earth metal exports have surged 600% year on year.

The new regulations impose tougher penalties for unauthorised virgin ore production, increase inspections, and place new reporting requirements on used electronics destined for rare earth metal recovery through smelting. While China controls approximately 23% of the world’s rare earth metal reserves, which are critical to the production of batteries, magnets, integrated circuits and numerous other products, it is responsible for approximately 95% of global output.

In 2009, it began limiting rare earth output to both regulate its long-term supply of these resources and to drive up the price for Chinese producers. Japan, the USA and the EU have all announced new rare earth production ventures, both from virgin and recycling sources.

The US Department of Energy recently announced an investment of US$ 120 million to study rare earth recovery processes at the Ames National Lab in Iowa.

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