Rare Earths: Metal Events conference focusses on the magnet supply chain

Rare Earths Conference

In the midst of the China-USA trade war, supply sustainability remained a key topic of conversation at the 16th International Rare Earth Conference, held in Kuala Lumpur this month. The specific attention for rare earths continues to be on magnet materials (Pr, Nd, Dy), which form a key component in the drivetrain motor of electric vehicles (EVs). Roskill’s latest rare earth forecast, which adjusts for lower EV adoption rates following a cut in China’s EV incentive schemes, still sees demand from magnets growing at 5–6%py over the next decade. By 2025, magnets are forecast to account for 33% of total rare earth demand by volume and over 81% by value.

This magnet focus is reflected in nearly all new supply projects, which are redefining resources on a NdPr-basis and looking to catch a ride with the expected magnet growth. The second-largest producer Lynas (largest outside of China) is also focussing its attention on the additional volumes of NdPr expected through its next expansion plans: Lynas 2025. In addition, the company’s Lynas Blue project is focussing on gaining value from the heavy rare earth magnet material content (Tb and Dy) through a project based in the USA.

Roskill’s supply and demand analysis emphasises the more sensitive supply chain of heavy rare earths (especially Dy) which, for the time being, remain critical in the high-performance motors used in EVs. Several magnet producers repeated this concern at the November conference and discussed the importance of grain-boundary diffusion technology in producing high-grade magnets while reducing the specific Dy consumption. Establishing raw material availability outside of China, however, requires the in-tandem development of alloy and magnet producing capacity in order to circumvent the major raw-material demand hub: China.

One of the key developments highlighted by Roskill is the balance of mining quotas and separation quotas in China, superimposed on environmental regulation closing down mining facilities. The result of the imbalance is a requirement of concentrate feed for rare earth separation plants in China, now likely the main competitor for international raw materials. Roskill’s latest supply numbers show that China now only accounts for around 60–65% of global rare earth mine supply, sourcing a growing volume from imports to service its integrated downstream industry.

Delegates from Japan say the country will continue to use measures to secure supply, along with its commitment to reduce CO2 emissions. Japan is 100% reliant on imported raw materials and this is unlikely to change, so the country has an interest in securing stable supply, including through financial support to the upstream industry. To paraphrase one Japanese delegate: “Japan will continue to support stable supply of critical raw materials as long as the risk of market dominance exists.”

In addition, the role and challenges of rare earth recycling made a headline during the conference. One of the key issues in recycling remains sourcing of material. While China has already established a significant capacity for magnet recycling for both end-of-life and off-cuttings (SWARF), North American and European projects are starting to look at a small piece of the pie.

One issue outside of China is the lack of availability of SWARF from primary magnet producers (SWARF accounts for much of the consistent secondary supply within China), while end-of-life magnets have not yet been adequately recovered by recyclers. Wind turbines are starting to be decommissioned and larger magnets are becoming available through this source, however, any significant volume will require time for larger wind farms to reach end-of-life status.

Roskill will publish its 19th Edition of the Rare Earths: Outlook to 2029 in December 2019, which includes three updates that provide you with up-to-date supply, demand and price forecasts, along with profiles of major producers, processors and end-uses. Click here to download the brochure and sample pages, or to access further information.

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This article was written by Nils Backeberg. Please get in touch below if you wish to discuss further:

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