ON THE IMPACT OF POTENTIAL PROCESSING TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENTS ON RARE EARTH MINING ECONOMICS
It is estimated that China accounts for 94% of the world supply of rare earths (Roskill, 2011). This fact, together with the impact of China’s export policy, poses a substantial risk to the security of the rare earth supply as well as a rare earth price risk. This situation has motivated an increase in the number of rare earth projects under development, i.e., there are currently more than 440 worldwide (Technology Metals Research, 2012). However, economically and environmentally acceptable processing technology to produce tradable products from rare earths (e.g., separated rare earth oxides) is not freely available on the market at the moment. In this respect, a lot of research and development has been initiated on this topic, in academia as well as in industry. Using a proprietary model and scenario-based analysis, we studied the impact that the development of rare earth processing technologies would have on the rare earth market and the economic feasibility of rare earth projects mentioned before. The analysis showed that this impact varies depending on the technology type (e.g., technology can affect project production volume, cost structure or both) and the legal context of the invention (e.g., free or limited by patenting availability of a new technology). The effect of a technology which influences project production volume is not the same as of a technology which changes project cost structure. The impact of a patented processing technology differs from the impact of a processing technology which is freely available on the market. In the case of a new technology which is limited by patenting, its impact depends on the market position (“producing”, “next-coming”, or “not producing” project) of the patent holder. The paper contributes to existing research by studying the dependence of the expected micro- and macroeconomic impact of rare earth processing technology developments on the properties of a new technology (e.g., costs, legal framework etc.). By this means, the paper adds to existing knowledge and attempts to make the rare earths market more transparent and predictable from a perspective outside China.
REE; Projects; Markets; Technology; Prices; Cost; Costs; Impact; Impacts; Processing;