Mumbai: These 17 elements are critical to many industries of the future—from smart phones to hybrid cars to solar panels. There is a worldwide scramble to get hold of rare earths. Prices have soared.
The problem that worries much of the world: China currently accounts for an overwhelming 97% of global production, and it has not been shy of using this dominance as a bargaining chip against other countries.
"Rare earths are vital future resources and we won't like any country to have a monopoly," said science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan at the sidelines of a conference in Mumbai to celebrate the 101st birth anniversary of physicist Homi Bhabha.
The growing international tensions over rare earth supplies has led to the first signs of a new national strategy—to ramp up domestic production, to consider inviting foreign companies to participate in joint ventures (JVs) with public sector units (PSUs) as minority partners and to strike cooperation deals with other governments which are worried about China's clout in the rare earths game.
India currently has a little over 2% share of global output of rare earths, but that still leaves it the second largest producer after China. To close the gap, the government is firming up plans to triple rare earths production from 2,700 tonnes to 7,700 tonnes by the end of 2011, according to R.N. Patra, chairman of Indian Rare Earths Ltd (IREL), a state-run firm set up in 1950.
Also See | The Rare Earth Story (Graphic) by US Geological Survey