Australian firm to open Malaysian rare earths plant

Mar 10, 2011 12:00 AM

An Australian mining company said it plans to finish building a huge rare earths processing plant in Malaysia late this year, in a possible challenge to China's stranglehold on the metals. The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Kuantan is scheduled to begin producing rare earths, which are indispensable in making many high-tech products, in the third quarter of 2011, a Lynas spokeswoman in Sydney told.
"The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant is scheduled to come online in the third quarter of 2011," she said.

The facility -- which will refine raw material from Mount Weld in Western Australia -- is described by the giant firm as "the largest of its kind" and set to provide the first new source of supply of rare earths outside China.
The firm was two to four years ahead of any other producers outside China because rare earths projects take several years to develop, Matthew James, vice president of corporate and business development at Lynas, told AFP in October. He said the project, which had been eight years in the making, had about 1.4 mm tons of the elements at Mount Weld. The company plans to double output from the Malaysian plant to 22,000 tpy by the end of 2012.

Rare earths like super-magnet dysprosium and red-glowing europium are vital components in hard-drives and computer screens, while the metals are also pivotal in making laser missile systems, wind turbines and solar panels.
World attention shifted to Australia's nascent rare earths industry after China, which dominates global production, began restricting exports, sending shudders through major consumers Japan, Europe and the United States.

In December, the United States called on China not to use rare earths as a "trade weapon" after Japanese industry said Beijing temporarily cut off exports in 2010 amid a territorial row. China, which produces more than 95 % of the world's rare earths, has denied any political motivations, insisting the restrictions on exports were due to environmental concerns and the need for a more sustainable approach.
This year the Asian giant has also tightened its grip over the industry by setting tough emission limits on miners producing the lucrative metals.

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