Japan Looks for Rare Earth Alternatives

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China is cutting its export of rare metals and minerals by 30 percent in 2011. The substances are needed by many electronic companies in Japan, who are taking extreme measures to make sure they have enough of the
substances to go around.

For the workers at Re-Tem Corporation in Tokyo, one person's trash is certainly another's treasure.

They are one of many Japanese firms involved in what is called urban mining - or the recycling of electrical equipment for precious and rare metals and minerals.

[...]

So while Japan is often considered resource poor with few natural mines and ores, it has turned its attention to the wealth of national urban scrap, potentially one of the world's wealthiest sources of metals.

The National Institute of Material Sciences estimates Japan's scrap heaps contain at least 10 percent of the entire world's metal and mineral reserves, and could potentially have similar amounts in rare earths.

]...]

However, recycling metals from scrap is still not a cheap option. But the Japanese government is hoping to change that by investing heavily in recycling research.

[Yoshiko Yamamoto, Researcher, Re-Tem Corp.]:
"Recycling technology, including the intermediary process, is still under development and not yet well established as an industry. I think the number of researchers will start to increase from now on and when that happens, we will see advancement in technology, and that in return will jump-start the recycling industry. I think this industry is a growing field."

The Japanese government has promised to budget an extra 1.2 billion U.S. dollars in research, new supply routes and stockpiling of rare earths, hoping never to be caught as unprepared as they were when China decided to clamp down.

[...]

There are currently many new mine projects outside of China in the pipeline, but few will be able to compete with it on price.

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