Swedish state-owned mining company, LKAB, announced that it has discovered more than one million tonnes of rare earth oxides in the northern area of the country.

 

Details

The present discovery in Sweden will further strengthen the agenda of Minerals Security Partnership (MSP).

 

About the ‘Rare Earth Elements’

  • REEs or Rare Earth Elements are a set of 17 chemical elements in the periodic table — the 15 lanthanides, plus scandium and yttrium. REEs are classified as light RE elements (LREE) and heavy RE elements (HREE).
  • These metals tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides, and have similar chemical properties.
  • The 17 rare earths are — cerium (Ce), dysprosium (Dy), erbium (Er), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), holmium (Ho), lanthanum (La), lutetium (Lu), neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), scandium (Sc), terbium (Tb), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), and yttrium (Y).

 

Uses

  • These elements are important in technologies of consumer electronics, computers and networks, communications, clean energy, advanced transportation, healthcare, environmental mitigation, and national defence, among others.
  • Scandium is used in televisions and fluorescent lamps, and yttrium is used in drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
  • Rare earth elements are used in space shuttle components, jet engine turbines, and drones.
    • Eg., Cerium is essential to NASA’s Space Shuttle Programme.

 

Why rare earths have become even more important in recent years?

  • In recent years, there has been an increase in demand for green energy.
  • Hence the demand for elements like neodymium and dysprosium, which are used in wind turbine motors, has increased.
  • Also, the push for switching from internal combustion cars to electric vehicles has also led to a rise in demand for rare earth magnets — made from neodymium, boron, and iron — and batteries.

 

India and Rare Earth Metals

  • India has 6% of the world’s rare earth reserves but it produces 1% of global output.
  • Some REE are available in India such as Lanthanum, Cerium, Neodymium, Praseodymium and Samarium.
  • Others such as Dysprosium, Terbium, Europium that are classified as HREE are not available in Indian deposits in extractable quantity.
  • Hence, there is a dependence on countries such as China for HREE, which is one of the leading producers of RE with an estimated 70 per cent of the global production.
  • Indian Rare Earths Ltd has been engaged in the mining and beneficiation of the heavy minerals.
  • As per the Foreign Trade Policy, 2015-2020, the import of ores and concentrates of rare earth metals and of rare earth oxides including rutile sand are permitted freely.
  • In mid-2020, India, through a newly floated state-owned company, had signed an agreement with an Argentinian firm to jointly prospect lithium.
    • The State-owned company, Khanij Bidesh India Ltd, was incorporated in August 2019.
    • Its mandate is to acquire strategic mineral assets such as lithium and cobalt abroad.

 

About the ‘Mineral Security Partnership’

  • It is an ambitious new US-led partnership to secure supply chains of critical minerals, aimed at reducing dependency on China.
    • There is no global definition of critical minerals, but essentially, they are mineral deposits with high economic vulnerability and high global supply chain risk.
  • The partnership was announced at the worlds largest mining event, held in Toronto.
  • MSP partner countries include Canada, Australia, Finland, Germany, France, Japan, Republic of Korea, Sweden, UK, US, and European Commission.
  • Goal —
      • To ensure that critical minerals are produced, processed, and recycled in a manner that supports the ability of countries to realise the full economic development benefit of their geological endowments.
      • Demand for critical minerals, which are essential for clean energy and other technologies, is projected to expand significantly in the coming decades.
      • The MSP will help catalyse investment from governments and the private sector for strategic opportunities —across the full value chain.