Q) What are rare-earth metals and Why are they important? In the context of India's significant import dependence of rare earth metals, suggest measures that are required to boost its domestic production as well as secure its import through global supply chains. (250 Words)
Source: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/looking-for-lithium-toehold-india-finds-a-small-deposit-in-karnataka-7141303/ , The Hindu page no:10(news): Arunachal harbours a vanadium source
Introduction: The rare-earth metals(REM) or rare earth elements are a group of transition metals, which includes the lanthanides series elements and scandium and yttrium are a set of 17 nearly indistinguishable lustrous silvery-white soft heavy metals.
Despite the name, these elements are fairly abundant in the Earth’s crust. However, they do not occur in pure form in nature but do occur together as compounds in minerals which makes them extremely difficult to isolate and thus are considered rare.
Apart from these metals such as lithium which is used in batteries are also rare but not considered as REM.
Importance of Rare Earth Metals: They have distinctive and wide variety of electrical, metallurgical, catalytic, nuclear, magnetic and luminescent properties. Thus they help in technologies perform with reduced weight, reduced emissions, and energy consumption; therefore give them greater efficiency, performance, miniaturization, speed, durability, and thermal stability.
They are used in a variety of materials and products, including:
• Manufacturing industry:
? Many of them ferrous metal that is used to produce steel alloys,
? They are also used to produce lighter flints, glass polishing mediums, car alternators, catalysts, phosphors and pigments.
? They're important in production of electronics such as hard disc drives, portable electronics, microphones, speakers, batteries, solar panels, LCDs and Plasma screens.
? They also used in petroleum refining and diesel additives.
? It is essential in high end defence production too.
• High-end technology: It can be used for producing superconductors, lasers and masers, extremely powerful magnets, high efficiency batteries, fibre-optic telecommunication cables.
• Futuristic technologies:
? For example high-temperature superconductivity, safe storage and transport of hydrogen for a post-hydrocarbon economy,
? They are important to counter environmental global warming and energy efficiency issues. They are used in hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles and wind tubrines etc.
In 2017, China produced 81% of world's Rare Earth metals. It puts a significant restriction on its export though which it controls the production of electronic items in the industry. Thus India needs to secure its own production as well as secure foreign sources too
Steps required Boosting Domestic Production: India too have significant amounts of placer deposits which are known to contain rare earth metals. Thus India can take the following steps:
1. Conduct Geological surveys: to find rare earth metals existing in India itself.
2. Sharing of Survey data: There is a lack of linkages between data collected by industry, academia and the government organizations. These data can be made available to each other in order to make it transparent.
3. Government Incentives: On survey, mining and refining of rare earth metals.
4. Budgetary support: is necessary in the formative stage of the industry.
5. Making use of existing programs: Such as Make in India and New Mineral exploration policy to tap PPP mode partnerships.
Recently, in the palaeoproterozoic carbonaceous phyllite rocks in the Depo and Tamang areas of Papum Pare district, vanadium deposits were found, with which Arunachal Pradesh is likely to become India’s prime producer of vanadium. Similar finds can be made if surveying and mining is boosted in India.
Securing international supply: alternative sources in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, Tanzania, Greenland, and the United States are expected. India can do the following to tap these sources:
1. Tapping strategic partnerships: India can use of partnerships such as the Quad, as countries like Australia and US contain significant supply of such metals.
2. Tapping export potentials: Country like Australia and Brazil depend significantly on hydrocarbon export. Which can be replaced by REM.
3. Partnerships: India can help in exploration in these countries and import from them.
4. Putting Pressure on China: China puts a significant amount of barriers on its REM export. India can partner with other countries to put pressure on China in forums such as WTO to break its monopoly.
Conclusion: Given the number of applications of REM, it is one of the most significant resource that can shape the future of manufacturing industries. Thus ensuring its availability is necessary if India is to ensure the success of its initiatives such as Make in India. India thus needs a comprehensive policy for Rare earth metals particularly.