China's new rule to make sustainable use of rare earth, iron

17:52, February 15, 2011      

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China has centralized its rare earth and iron mining system by specifying the first 13 state-planned mining zones last month. The main purposes, according to the Ministry of Land and Resources, are to protect the environment and facilitate the sustainable development of the country's strategic natural resources, according to a report by People's Daily on Tuesday.

The 11 rare earth mining zones, located in Ganzhou Prefecture of Jiangxi Province, cover more than 2,500 square kilometers and have estimated rare earth reserves of 760,000 tons. The two iron zones are in Panzhihua, Sichuan Province. They cover more than 460 square kilometers and have existing capacity of 16.8 million tons per year.

Currently China holds only one-third of the world's rare earth reserves, but contributes 90 percent of the supply on the world's market. That situation is not sustainable. In the meantime, there is a huge environmental cost in mining and processing of rare earth in two ways.

On one hand, the mining of rare earth causes land and water erosion, which destroys farmland. On the other, the emission after the mining further damages the environment. Therefore, putting the rare earth mining under national planning can help to achieve the sustainable utilization of the resource and the environmental protection.

Iron is a commodity product that is in short supply in China. Although more reserves have been found and the mining has been growing in recent years in China, more than half of China's iron consumption relies on imports. Therefore, it is important to step up efforts on prospecting iron resources in China. The establishment of state-planned iron zones is part of the efforts on better management of iron resources prospecting and utilization.

There are three reasons that those areas have been chosen to be included in the first batch of state-planned zones. First is the importance of resources. Ion-absorbed rare earth resources in China are unique in the world. Ganzhou is an important production base of ion-absorbed rare earth, producing 70 percent of medium and heavy rare earths in China.

Panzhihua and Xichang region is rich in vanadium-titanium magnetite, with nearly 10 billion tons of identified reserves of iron ore resources, accounting for about 15 percent of China's iron ore reserves. Vanadium-titanium magnetite reserve is about 9.6 billion tons, accounting for 83 percent of China's reserve. Vanadium reserves are 18.6 million tons, accounting for 52 percent of China’s total. Titanium reserves total 618 million tons, accounting for 95 percent of China’s total titanic iron ore reserves.

The second reason these regions were selected is due to their significant geological features. Pangzhihua and Xichang region are rich in iron ore deposits, which are rare in China. The favorable conditions and exploration potential make it suitable for building large-scale mines there. With advantages in unified planning and scale development, building large-scale mining is conducive to comprehensive utilization.

The third reason is the mature conditions. A relatively complete industrial chain for rare earth exploration, production and processing has been formed in Ganzhou. The management system is relatively sound there. Pangzhihua and Xichang's mining capacity for Vanadium-titanium magnetite has reached 30 million tons per year, which has set a foundation for designated nationally-planned iron ore mining.

The designation of state-planned mining zones for rare earth and iron will pave the way for the drafting of national planning for the prospecting and development of the country’s major rare earth and iron-rich zones. In addition, the mining rights will be authorized in line with the economic and market needs. That could ease the supply shortage and lead to the use of the resources in a more efficient manner. In that way, the national strategic resources will be exploited in a more sustainable way.

By Li Jia and Zhang Hongyu, People’s Daily Online


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