Turkey’s new rare-earth reserves won’t affect Chinese industry, offer cooperation opportunity
Published: Jul 10, 2022 08:02 PM

A representative from local enterprises look at the display case of rare-earth metals and oxides at the National Center of Quality Supervision and Inspection for Tungsten and Rare Earth Products (NCQSIFTREP) in Ganzhou, East China's Jiangxi Province on Friday. Photo: Li Hao/GT

A representative from local enterprises look at the display case of rare-earth metals and oxides at the National Center of Quality Supervision and Inspection for Tungsten and Rare Earth Products (NCQSIFTREP) in Ganzhou, East China's Jiangxi Province. Photo: Li Hao/GT

China's technological and industrial advantage in the global rare-earth industry will be maintained into the future, and the discovery of a rare-earth reserve in Turkey won't have an obvious impact on China's global position, a number of Chinese rare-earth companies said. Industry analysts also said on Sunday the newly discovered rare-earth reserves could present opportunity for China and Turkey to cooperate.

The reported 694 million tons of Turkish rare-earth reserves could translate to only 300,000 tons of available rare-earth oxides (REO) compared with China's 44 million ton reserves, according to some claims.

"Judging from relevant news report, the claimed nearly 700 million tons of rare-earth reserves in Turkey is contradictory. If the reserves are in the form of rare-earth oxides, such scale of reserve should rank No. 1 in the world, ahead of China. So such reserves, we speculate, should be minerals," said Bao Gang United Steel, based in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, in response to investors questions over the weekend.

Turkey reportedly discovered the world's second-largest rare-earth reserve in the central Anatolia region. The site contains 694 million tons of rare earth which could meet the equivalent of 1,000 years of global demand, news website Market Watch reported last week. 

The rare-earth industry usually uses REO as the statistical index for rare-earth reserves, output and sales. China is currently the world's largest rare-earth producer and consumer, accounting for around 60 percent of rare-earth production worldwide in 2020. It also has a REO reserve of 44 million tons, leading the world with a 37 percent of global market share. 

Bao Gang United Steel - before the Turkish mine was uncovered - owns the world's largest rare-earth reserves, Baiyun ebo mixed-type rare earth ore, with 35 million tons of REO.

Chinese listed rare-earth firm Shenghe Resources also said in an article posted on its official WeChat account that the 6.94-million-ton figure would likely be a reference to the amount of minerals, rather than REO. 

"The global REO output is around 280,000 tons a year, and the annual REO production of [the Turkey mine] is 10,000 tons, so it won't have a major impact on global market," Shenghe Resources said. It added that the main components of the Turkish mine are not heavy rare earths - an indispensable components for the production of a range of high-end electronics, vehicles and weapons, further reducing its impact on global rare-earth competition. 

The fact that the 694-million-ton rare-earth reserve, if considered REO, is equivalent to 5.8 times of global REO serves already being detected, also further trigger speculation among industry insiders on the accuracy of the data. 

Wu Chenhui, an independent rare-earth industry analyst, told the Global Times on Sunday that the ORE of the rare-earth mine in Turkey, based on his calculation, is around 300,000 tons, which "China is able to complete in half a year."

"The reason why China enjoys a dominant global position in the rare-earth industry is not because of the large reserve, but the ability to extract, separate and re-generate, as well as a complete industrial chain to produce downstream products," a manager of a large state-owned magnet producer based in Ganzhou, East China's Jiangxi Province, surnamed Yang told the Global Times on Sunday. 

"In addition to China, Australia, Africa, the US, and Southeast Asian countries also have discovered rich rare-earth reserves. But they lack the extraction and refining technologies," Yang added. 

Bao Gang said its Baiyun ebo mine has an incomparable cost advantage as the mine is home to multiple rare earth metals, which would lower extraction costs. Also, certain parts of the mines have established a complete industrial chain from exploration, grinding, selection to transportation, which also cement the cost advantage. 

According to Wu, Turkey may seek to work with China to facilitate the exploration of rare-earth reserves. "China could be the best potential partner. Turkey could sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China, and the latter could provide one-stop technical service from exploration to sales and purchase," Wu said.