Official Roll-out of the Blueprint for the Development of a Malaysian Rare Earth Industry
The Straits Settlements, The Place that Britain’s Royal Navy Developed to Secure its Supply of Tin for Admiralty Bronze is now Entering the Age of Technology Metals as a Heavy Rare Earth Metals and End-Use Products Supplier.
Modern Malaysia is now entering the 21st century as a rapidly developing self-sufficient high tech economy. Earlier this week the Malaysian Academy of Science (SAIN) announced that it had determined by exploration geology that there were at least 7 of the 13 States of the Malaysian Federation (A constitutional monarchy) that have “deposits” of ionic adsorption clays charged with rare earths easily solubilized by solutions of common salts (such as ammonium sulphate) and having very low radioactive content. Thus unlike the “clay-like” deposits reported, for example, in the Western Indian Ocean and in Brazil the Malaysian “clays” are in fact formed in the same way as the Chinese ionic adsorption clays in southern China (in places like Sichuan Province). In fact the Malaysian clays are the result of the same conditions and substrate geology as the Chinese clays.
The main difference between the ionic clays of southeast Asia and those in places such as Madagascar and Brazil are that the non-SE Asian clays are in-fact typically hybrids of soluble (ionic) and lattice bound (covalent) species. The covalently bound species can only be extracted by strong acids or bases. The value of these hybrid deposits is lower because of the increased OPEX of their hydrometallurgy.
I had the honor of being chosen by SAIN two years ago to assist in the formation and drafting of their Blueprint for the Development of a Malaysian Rare Earth Industry. Since then I have been privy to the work done in Malaysia by SAIN including a survey by AIST, Japan’s geological survey, which identified and characterized the world’s ionic adsorption clay deposits. In a closed presentation I saw in the Spring of this year AIST’s Dr Yasushi Watanabe reported to the Malaysian Ministry of Mines that a belt of ionic adsorption deposits can be traced from Southern China going further south and west along an arc that includes similar deposits in Viet Nam, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Indonesian Archipelago. Of all of these non-Chinese locations Malaysia is the outstanding political choice due to its democratic form of government, rule of law, private property and mineral rights laws, recognition of the critical importance of ethical and environmentally clean mining, and the country’s existing high degree of industrialization and technical education. It also is significant that Malaysia “average” rate of GDP growth for the last several years has been 6.5%! Malaysia’s national oil company, Petronas, and it steel, palm oil, and tin processing industries are already world class.
Malaysia today is the only nation in its region that manufactures a completely domestic car (500,000 per year), manufactures computer hard drives, machines rare earth permanent magnet alloys, and manufactures high tech graphite products.
Malaysia is of course a major processor of the tin ore, cassiterite, although today that ore is mostly mined in Indonesia and brought to Malaysia for refining. The residue from such refining has been a well known Malaysian source of the heavy rare earth mineral xenotime for decades as has the country’s mineral sands, which have been processed in the past in Malaysia to yield their monazite.
SAIN’s Blueprint is for a total rare earth supply chain to be domestically constructed within Malaysia. The country already has significant end users of rare earth permanent magnets, and, of course, currently Australia’s Lynas Corporation operates, utilizing local, Malaysian engineers, managers, and workers probably the world’s largest light rare earth solvent extraction based separation plant for monazite type ores. In addition the University of Malaysia, its Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and SAIN have scientists and engineers who have been working with rare earth separation and downstream processing for decades. SAIN is currently looking at all of the traditional and non-traditional rare earth separation technologies from which it will select one or more for a heavy rare earth pilot plant within a year.
The non-Chinese rare earth industry, particularly that of Japan, will I think welcome these events and support them.
Those of you who need heavy rare earths or their end use products such as magnets, phosphors, and lasers need to keep Malaysia in focus both as a resource and as a place in which to invest.
Jack Lifton is the CEO of Jack Lifton, LLC and is a consultant, author, and lecturer on the market fundamentals of technology metals. “Technology metals” ... <Read more about Jack Lifton>