Lianyugang Zeyu New Materials Sales, a subsidiary of state-owned Guangdong Rising Asset Management, struck a deal with Australia’s Northern Minerals to acquire 100% of all dysprosium produced at the company’s Browns Range mine. The deal is strategically significant for two reasons: 1) Browns Range, once operational, will reportedly be the only active mining project outside of China to produce this heavy rare earth element (HREE) in significant amounts; and 2) the element, along with all other HREEs, is in short supply.
Beijing’s control of dysprosium production worldwide has potentially large commercial and military implications/applications, ranging from renewable energy and high technology applications to military uses such as permanent magnets and lasers. As a point of reference, in 2012, the United States military used around seven tons of the element.
The three-year pilot project at Browns Range will begin producing 49,000 kilograms of dysprosium annually beginning in mid-2018 and has a potential lifespan of 11 years, pegging the mine’s entire supply at around 280,000 kilograms. Before the offtake agreement, Sinosteel Engineering & Technology was awarded a $60 million engineering, procurement, and construction contract by Northern Minerals in December 2016. Per that contract, Sinosteel agreed to construct the pilot plant.
This development is especially noteworthy, given the embargo on rare earth elements imposed by China on Japan in September 2010 following a dispute.