RPT-FACTBOX-Race for rare earth metals shifts away from China

Tue Sep 8, 2009 5:08pm EDT

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Sept 8 (Reuters) - The race to find rare earth metals, used in hybrid cars, laser equipment and a diverse range of other technologies, is shifting to Canada, Brazil and South Africa as Canadian explorers look for sources that would loosen China's lock on supplies.

Concerns are mounting that Beijing could further restrict rare earth exports and even impose an outright ban on shipments of some key metals.

Here are few interesting facts about rare earth metals:

* China produces about 97 percent of world's rare earth metals.

* The country wants to use its resources mainly for its domestic consumption while getting global companies to set up high-tech operations in its regions such as Inner Mongolia.

* In late 1990s, Chinese companies expanded their mining operations, leading to the country's control of most of the world's rare earth production.

* China regulates its exports with quotas and duties. Since 2004, exports from China have shrunk by about 10 percent each year. Analysts say the export quotas for this year could range between 32,000 tonnes to 34,000 tonnes.

* Demand for rare earth metals is likely to increase between 10 percent and 20 percent each year, on back of growing demand for metals such as neodymium, used to make hybrid electric vehicles and generators for wind turbines. (Reporting by Ashutosh Joshi in Bangalore)

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