The rare earth elements are all metals, and the group is commonly known as the "rare earth metals." Due to their comparable qualities, these metals are frequently found in the same geologic formations. They are also known as "rare earth oxides" due to the fact that many of them are commonly sold as oxide compounds. There are 17 in total and are also called rare earths.
Due to their unique magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties, Rare Earth Elements assist technology in reducing emissions and energy consumption, hence enhancing their efficacy, performance, speed, durability, and thermal stability. They possess unique electrical, metallurgical, catalytic, nuclear, magnetic, and luminous characteristics. Future technologies will require these rare earth elements for high-temperature superconductivity, the secure storage and transfer of hydrogen in a post-hydrocarbon economy, environmental global warming, and energy efficiency challenges.
Rare earth metals and alloys containing them are utilised in numerous everyday technologies, including computer memory, DVDs, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, magnets, and fluorescent lighting, among others.
In the past two decades, the demand for numerous products that require rare earth elements has skyrocketed. Twenty years ago, just a small fraction of the population owned a cell phone, whereas today, over 5 billion individuals own a mobile device. The use of rare earth elements in computers has increased at a rate comparable to that of mobile phones.
A large number of rechargeable batteries contain rare earth compounds. The need for batteries is fueled by the popularity of portable electronic devices such as cell phones, e-readers, laptops, and cameras.
Increasing global trends in green technologies will increase the demand for key rare earth minerals. The Government of India is taking initiatives to improve and strengthen India's position on the rare earth market, notwithstanding its late entry into the competition. Moreover, if India wishes to establish itself as a global leader in renewable energy and become more self-sufficient in defensive equipment, it should attempt to lessen its reliance on imports of renewable energy equipment, such as solar panels and modules, and defence equipment. Multiple pounds of rare earth compounds are included in the batteries of every electric and hybrid-electric vehicle. As energy independence, climate change, and other concerns drive the sale of electric and hybrid vehicles, the need for batteries containing rare earth compounds will increase even more rapidly.
Catalysts, phosphors, and polishing chemicals use rare earths. These are utilised for air pollution management, illuminating electronic device screens, and polishing glass of optical quality. All of these items are anticipated to experience an increase in demand.
Other chemicals may be substituted for rare earth elements in their most vital applications; however, these alternatives are typically less effective and more expensive.
Rare earth elements are crucial to our national security. The military makes use of night-vision goggles, precision-guided weaponry, communications technology, GPS systems, batteries, and other forms of defence electronics. Rare earth metals are essential components of the alloys used in armoured vehicles and projectiles that shatter upon impact, which are extremely hard. From rare earth minerals are generated permanent magnets used in defence equipment, including actuators, to control guidance systems for airborne smart missiles, as well as aerospace uses for aircraft components and airstrip maintenance equipment.
In certain defence applications, alternatives for rare earth elements can be utilised; however, these substitutes are typically less effective, which diminishes military supremacy.
The China Factor
China began generating significant quantities of rare earth oxides in the early 1980s, and by the early 1990s, it had become the world's top producer. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, China steadily increased its market share of rare earth oxide. They sold rare earths at such low costs that the Mountain Pass Mine and many others were unable to compete and ceased operations.
China is also the greatest consumer of rare earth elements, in addition to being the largest producer. They primarily use rare earths to manufacture electronics for domestic and international markets. The United States and Japan are the second and third major users of rare earth elements, respectively.
The transition and it's threats
China's unwillingness to sell rare earths may be a defence of their manufacturing sector's added value. Supply and demand typically determine a commodity's market price. As supplies diminish, prices increase.
The interval between a mining company's decision to acquire a property and the start of production for rare earth elements can be several years or more. There is no quick method to establish a new mining property.
If a single nation controls the vast majority of production and takes a strong decision not to export, the whole supply of a commodity can be cut off abruptly. It is dangerous when it takes so long to generate new sources of supply.
In 2010, China severely banned shipments of rare earths. This was done for environmental and domestic manufacturing purposes to ensure a sufficient supply of rare earth elements . This change by China caused a panic purchasing spree, and the price of several rare earths increased rapidly. In addition, Japan, the United States, and the European Union lodged complaints with the World Trade Organization against China's restrictive trade policies around rare earths.
MSP (Minerals Security Partnership)?
The MSP is comprised of the United States and ten partners: Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the European Commission. The purpose of the new grouping is to stimulate investment from governments and the corporate sector in order to create strategic possibilities.
“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 — that adhere to the highest environmental, social, and governance standards,” the US State Department
India is not a part of this partnership.
It is essential for India to secure economic security on a strategic level. If India is unable to explore and extract these minerals, it will be forced to rely on a small number of nations, particularly China, to fuel its plans to switch to electric vehicles. Similar to our dependence on a handful of countries for oil. Such dependence can cripple the development.
With the release of a National Mineral Policy for 2019 including non-fuel and non-coal minerals, India has taken the first step toward acquiring expertise in harnessing these minerals and shifting its focus to strengthening its downstream sector. To this purpose, India can use its relationships with Japan and other nations that possess the necessary technology for producing downstream equipment in order to establish itself as an alternative supplier of REE-based technology, complete with its own supply chain of minerals and metals.