KOLKATA (miningweekly.com) - Japan’s Toyota Tsusho Corporation was set to start rare earths production in India by April, from monazite sand mined in the country.
Toyotsu Rare Earths India Private, a wholly owned subsidiary of Toyota Tsusho would use monazite sand classified as mine waste, and supplied by Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL), which extracted uranium and thorium, to produce rare earths like neodymium, lanthanum and cerium.
The establishment of an Indian rare earths production base marked the gains from a series of Indo-Japanese strategic dialogues last year, for joint collaboration on development of rare earths and reducing overdependence on sourcing of the critical resource from China. As part of this bilateral dialogue, Japan removed seven Indian companies from its Foreign End-users List, which included Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL), owned and managed by India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).
The Japanese initiative to remove IREL from its negative list of entities paved the way for supply of waste monazite sand to Toyota Tsusho to set up smelting facilities for extraction of rare earths in India.
Toyota Tsusho was making preparations to start production in April this year, and assuming the project progressed according to plan, the company expected the Indian plant to produce 4 000 t of rare earths from the first year of production, a company spokesperson said.
The participation of a foreign company in exploitation of beach sand minerals was also made possible by modification of the exploration policy of the DAE. The latter, by virtue of being the sole custodian for production of nuclear fuel like uranium and thorium, enjoyed a monopoly over beach sand because of its thorium content.
Such a policy resulted in underexploitation of resources, with India controlling 17% of total world beach sand mineral resources but production accounting for a mere 6% of global production.
However, the monopoly of the DAE has been eased, allowing foreign and Indian private companies to invest in extraction and smelting of rare earths from these beach sand resources, while the DAE retained the monopoly on nuclear fuel production.
“Of the 21-million tons of rare-earth element reserves in India, monazite alone constituted 10.21-million tons, with the province of Andhra Pradesh topping the list with reserves of 3.73-million ton,” head of geology at Andhra University C Kasipathy said.
Toyota Tsusho previously sourced its entire production of neodymium, lanthanum and cerium from China, however, in recent years, depending on the country for these resources has become exceedingly problematic, with Toyota Tsusho forced to look for new sources in Vietnam, the US, Indonesia and Australia, apart from its new facility in India.