Study into rare earth uses, smelting 'plays key role in China's success'

Baiyun Obo Laboratory in Inner Mongolia now regarded as a national-level entity for the role its researchers have played in the sector; Minmetals outlines outlook for year ahead

Study into rare earth uses, smelting 'plays key role in success' 
The rare earths institute in Baotou in Inner Mongolia. File photo by AFP.

(ATF) Baiyun Obo Laboratory, in Inner Mongolia, has become key to China’s national science and technology plan, having been given a mission to promote efficient development and transformation of rare earth resources.

In the national science and technology support plan, comprehensive utilisation of resources from five well-known domestic polymetallic symbiosis mines, including Baiyun Obo iron ore and Panzhihua vanadium-titanium magnetite, have been chosen as national "large-scale metal mining bases".

Zhang Guangrui, deputy director of the Baiyun Obo laboratory and director of its scientific research department, told local reporters recently that from 2009 to 2013 the Baiyun Obo Lab did key research on the use of rare-earth niobium in Baotou, as well as smelting low-grade ferro-niobium from niobium concentrates to enable comprehensive use of rare earth elements, plus iron and niobium.

They successfully developed a new process of selective reduction-melting-electric furnace smelting to prepare ferro-niobium alloys, which he said, solved the problem of carbon thermal reduction of high-titanium-rich niobium-rich slag. They also developed a new technology of niobium extraction from high-titanium-rich niobium slag with independent intellectual property rights.

The lab "took the initiative" to take up this tasks," Zhang said. "In the end, the comprehensive utilisation level of iron and rare earths was further improved, and pilot production of niobium was realised."

Liu Yubao, director of the Baotou Rare Earth Research Institute's Metal Materials section, and research team leader at Baiyun Obo Laboratory, said: "It has been identified that this method is the first in China, and the overall technology has reached the domestic advanced level, providing strong technical support for the comprehensive utilisation of valuable resources in Bayan Obo Mine."

Baiyun Obo Laboratory in Baotou, the capital of China’s rare earth industry, had undertaken some 116 scientific research projects, formulating 67 national, industry and group standards. It had also authorised 66 invention patents and obtained 36 scientific and technological awards at or above the provincial and ministerial level. This saw it become a site of national importance for scientific and technological innovation and integration of production and research in the field of rare earths.

Local reporters published a report on April 26 this year, which said Baotou Ruixin Rare Earth Metal Materials' current production capacity had reached 30 tons per day and more than 800 tons per month – 20% of the entire country’s output of neodymium praseodymium.

"The reason why we can achieve such a large production capacity is mainly because we have the current international advanced rare-earth metal processing technology," Guo Haitao, vice-president of production at Baotou Ruixin, said.

The Baiyun Obo Laboratory is seen as playing a key role in the development of the autonomous region's rare earth industry. It has focused on basic research of rare earth applications and pre-competitive technology research, formulated international, national and industry standards, while gathering and training high-end talent and undertaking other tasks to enable high-quality development of the rare earth industry.

Minmetals has big plans for 2021

Meanwhile, in other rare earth news, Minmetals Rare Earth released its annual and quarterly reports at the end of April. In the 2020 year, the company realised operating income of 1.656 billion yuan (US$255.8 million), an increase of 0.56% from 1.647 billion yuan in the same period of the previous year; net profit attributable to shareholders of listed companies was 279 million yuan, an increase of 224.8% from 85.894 million yuan in the same period last year. 

In the first quarter of 2021, the company's revenue was about 770 million yuan, a year-on-year increase of 144.45%, according to China Securities journal; net profit was about 102 million yuan, a year-on-year increase of 749.24%, while basic earnings per share were 0.1035 yuan, a year-on-year increase of 748.36%.

Minmetals Rare Earths stated that in 2021 the global economy will fluctuate significantly because of the pandemic, and the impact will spread to many regions and industries. The domestic and foreign market environment would face greater challenges and uncertainties. Given this, the company will implement new development concepts, seize market opportunities, follow policy guidance, deepening the reform of pilot projects, and strengthen grassroots practice overcoming the multiple impacts of the epidemic and market fluctuations for hard-won results.

As the sole rare earth listing platform of Minmetals Rare Earth Group, one of the six largest rare earth groups, the company is one of the largest southern ion rare earth separation and processing enterprises in China. Its main separation companies have passed ISO9000, ISO14000, and OHSAS18000 three-system certification, and can achieve full separation of 15 single high-purity rare earth elements, effectively improving the utilization rate of rare earth resources.

The purity of most of the company's rare earth oxide products is greater than 99.99%, and the purity of some rare earth oxides such as high-purity lanthanum oxide and high-purity yttrium oxide can reach more than 99.9999%, and the resource utilization rate can reach more than 98.5%; its rare earth research institute is a national "863" in cooperation with units of the "973" plan, many technologies such as linkage extraction process design and control and calcium saponification developed in recent years have been successfully applied in many domestic enterprises. They are used in the extraction and separation theory and process design of acid-containing and multi-component systems. 

Minmetals said in a release rare earth is a product that China strictly implements total production control over. As an important enterprise in the rare earth separation industry, the company has obtained medium and heavy ion type rare earth smelting and separation in recent years. 

The establishment of a large-scale rare earth enterprise group by China Minmetals on the platform of Minmetals Rare Earth Group has passed the inspection and acceptance. The operation and implementation of the Shenggongzhai rare earth mine prospecting rights and Feitian rare earth mine prospecting rights through Huatai Xintuo's shareholding in Huaxia Epoch are in line with relevant regulations. It has all industry access qualifications.

At this stage, limits of the mining area at the Shenggongzhai Rare Earth Mine has been completed. In order to improve the efficiency of exploration and mining, the company is giving priority to the Shenggongzhai Rare Earth Mine. In addition, the Jianghua Rare Earth Mine under Minmetals Rare Earth Group has been successfully completed in 2020, and the company's resource channel advantages will be further guaranteed, it stated.

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China rare earths Mining Processing Baiyun Obo Lab research uses smelting Minmetals Inner Mongolia Baotou Rare Earth Research Institute patents Minmetals Rare Earths Shenggongzhai mine