Rare earths are booming again as a clampdown on wildcat miners in China crimps supply in the world’s biggest producer while the clean energy boom bolsters their use in everything from electric vehicles to wind turbines.
Prices for “light” rare earths including neodymium and praseodymium have exploded in recent months as traders and consumers snap up material that’s becoming scarcer. China’s shutting down illegal producers as the industry is swept up in the same kind of government clampdowns that have shaken other metals markets in 2017. Among many other applications, the elements are needed to make magnets used in motors and turbines.
“The prices of light rare earths still have upside for the longer term,” Alice Mu, a Beijing-based analyst at researcher Argus Metals, said via Wechat message. “There are shortages emerging from the supply side as China’s government shuts down illegal mines, purchases for state reserves, and implements tighter environmental policies.”
China, which produces more than 80 percent of the world’s rare earths, is clamping down on mining as part of a campaign to tackle pollution and tighten control of its massive industrial complex. Measures to curb production have already driven up prices of aluminum and steel and now rare earths are feeling the heat just as demand accelerates.
Praseodymium-neodymium oxide, a raw material for the metal, has almost doubled this year, according to Shanghai Steelhome E-Commerce Ltd. Neodymium surged by nearly a third in August alone and is up 81 percent in 2017.
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