We are pleased to share with you the key points discussed in the recent talk on raw materials at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros de Minas y Energía https://www.linkedin.com/company/etsimeupm/, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, on June 20, 2023. Organized by the Robeco
Chair https://www.linkedin.com/company/robeco/ (The Investment Engineers) under the direction of renowned expert Luis de la Torre https://www.linkedin.com/in/luis-de-la-torre-pal/ , this conference attracted a large audience and was a resounding success.
The main focus of the talk was the fascinating world of rare earths and the challenges surrounding them. Enrique Burkhalter https://www.linkedin.com/in/enrique-burkhalter-thiebaut-75769b34/ , director of the Matamulas Project in Ciudad Real at Quantum Minería http://www.quantummineria.es/ and member of the FPSC (Follower Essential & CRM Projects Steering Committee) of the R8 Project, was the speaker who guided us through this exciting topic. The FPSC is a group of companies dedicated to the development of Critical Raw Materials (CRM) projects, providing a strategic vision for the R8 Project. This allows consortium members to benefit from the external opinions of industry professionals, who could share their views on project advancements.
During the talk, the bottlenecks faced in the supply of rare earths were discussed, as well as the crucial role played by China in their global production and supply. Extracting rare earth elements presents significant technical challenges as they are extremely difficult to separate. As an example, they correspond to elements that have been recently isolated, which leads to the main bottleneck lying in the refining and alloy manufacturing processes, areas where China holds a clear dominant position.
In terms of production, China leads the market, followed by the United States and Australia (with a strong presence of Japanese capital). Prices vary considerably from $1 to $130 per chemical element. This means that deposits exhibit a wide variation in the price of all rare earth elements combined into a single price, considering the concentration of the various chemical elements that make up the deposit (known as «basket price»).
The significance of rare earth elements lies in their value for numerous sectors, especially in the manufacturing of permanent magnets. According to the US Department of Energy, global demand is approximately 100,000 tons. This fact has prompted companies like General Motors and the German company Vacuumschmelze (VAL) to develop factories directly catering to the electric vehicle industry.
There is currently no significant mining production of rare earth elements in Europe, although promising indications exist in Sweden, Greenland, and Spain. Research is being conducted in terms of treatment and refining capacity, and there is already a pilot plant operational in Estonia, with the participation of Neo Performance Materials.
It is expected that the European Union will have a demand for approximately 18,800 tons of rare earth elements.
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