China, which is the largest producer of rare earths, has announced a ban on the export of technology used to make rare earth magnets. This ban is in addition to the existing ban on technology used to extract and separate these critical materials. Rare earths are a group of 17 metals used in making magnets that convert power into motion for use in electric vehicles, wind turbines, and electronics.
Experts believe that this move by China should serve as a warning that dependence on China in any part of the value chain is not sustainable. The Chinese commerce ministry had invited public opinion in December last year on the possibility of adding the technology for preparing samarium-cobalt magnets, neodymium-iron-boron magnets, and cerium magnets to its “Catalogue of Technologies Prohibited and Restricted from Export.”
The ministry has now added these technologies to the list, along with technology to make rare-earth calcium oxyborate and production technology for rare earth metals. The catalogue’s stated aims include protecting national security and public interest. This year, China has significantly tightened rules guiding the exports of several metals in an escalating battle with the West over control of critical minerals.
In August, it introduced export permits for chipmaking materials gallium and germanium, followed by similar requirements for several types of graphite since December 1. The move to protect its rare earth technology comes as Europe and the United States seek to reduce their reliance on rare earths from China, which accounts for almost 90% of global refined output.
China has mastered the solvent extraction process to refine the strategic minerals, which MP Materials and other Western rare earth companies have struggled to deploy due to technical complexities and pollution concerns. Shares of MP, which has slowly begun increasing rare earths processing in California, jumped more than 10% on Thursday after China’s move. Ucore Rare Metals also reported on Thursday that it had completed commissioning of a facility to test its own rare earths processing technology, which is being partly funded by the US Department of Defense.