MP Materials (MP.N) and other Western corporations stockpiled processed rare earths in a Chinese-dominated market. The green energy transition requires rare earths.
Earth’s base has 17 rare earth minerals. All are silver-white. But it’s challenging to uncover reserves that can be utilized for commerce, and the actual rarity comes from how hard it is to break them into bits required to produce durable magnets. Important objects use these magnets.
China produces 60% of rare earth mines and 85%–90% of processed occasional piles of earth and magnets.
Goldman Sachs reports that just five non-Chinese rare earth mines are operating, being constructed, or restarted.
Here are the problematic methods needed to transform rare earths into magnets for electric automobiles and wind farms, which will drive demand in the future. Crushed ore is transported to a processing plant near the mine.
Rare piles of earth make up a tiny percentage of the ore, although flotation, magnetic, or electrostatic processes may extract other minerals. This creates a 60–70% rare earth mixed concentration. Mine waste, mineral sands, and iron ore may be used to make rare earth concentrates. Metal origin distinguishes labor.
Acid is used to extract radioactive thorium and uranium from monazite.
The hardest part is keeping rare earths apart. After World War II, U.S. government study institutions developed the approach.
Ion exchange allows separation. Ammonia, hydrochloric acid, and sulfates may also achieve this. Some chemicals create cancer-causing byproducts.
“Light” and “heavy” rare earths require separate sorting circuits.
New world-improvement tools are being developed but have yet to be widely employed.
Separated rare earth oxides or carbonates purify the metals.
Neodymium and praseodymium are combined with iron and boron to create metal in a vacuum induction furnace. This combination produces the most common permanent magnets. To improve heat resistance, magnets sometimes include modest quantities of dysprosium and terbium.
The metal bars were broken up and jet-milled in a nitrogen-gas chamber to generate a micron-sized powder. This powder undergoes “sintering,” a high-temperature and pressure process, to become magnets.