As mentioned before on this blog, anti-rare earth mining organisations are actually harming attempts to create a green economy in Malaysia. The good news is that Lynas Corporation has overcome these protests with a clean bill of health and is set to invest potentially billions of dollars in the Malaysian economy. At the same time, it will provide jobs for Malaysians and will put the country at the centre of the green revolution, which can only be good for the environment.

Rare earth elements or rare earth metals are a group of naturally occurring elements found in the lanthanide section of the periodic table, which are found in the Earth’s crust, but are often not found in concentrated form. There are 15 definite rare earth metals in this group, with two others – yttrium and scandium – considered to be rare earth metals as well, but which are not found in the lanthanide section.

Despite being plentiful, rare earth elements are not famous and few people will be able to name them. Throughout history they have been ignored, but now, thanks to the development of processors and green technology, these little pieces of metal are vital to the future economies and environments of the world.

Rare Earth – in almost all green-tech lifestyle devices.

For most of the last half-century or so, rare earth metals such as yttrium and cerium, have been used for processors in computers, laptops, cellular phones and tablet computers. They have fuelled MP3 players, flat-screen TVs and fibre optic cables.

Where Lynas Corp come in is with the ultimate uses of these metals. The products mentioned above are part of a lifestyle choice. They are accessories of gismos designed to make life easier or more fun and  designed with the future of the planet in mind.

These elements are also used in water purification, petroleum refining and catalytic conversion. That means all cars with catalytic converters designed to reduce pollution are using rare earth metals. In 1993 there were an estimated 5.2 million cars in Malaysia. Now there are predictions that there will be 20 million by 2020. That is a lot of catalytic converters.

Hi-tech windmills harvesting wind for energy. This green technology windmill uses super-magnet which consist rare earth metal.

Countries and companies across the world are seeking ways to change the way they operate. People with means are trying to find greener technologies. Many of these countries are trying to get rid of fossil fuels altogether and are hoping to reduce reliance upon nuclear technology (Fukushima and Chernobyl show what can go wrong there). Luckily, rare earth metals form an integral part of developing green energy devices such as solar panels, rechargeable batteries for electronic cars, wind turbines, energy efficient lightbulbs and hybrid electric cars. Imagine 20 million electric cars and an end to smog in Kuala Lumpur.

As stated above, many of these rare earth metals are plentiful and naturally occurring in the Earth’s crust. The metal cerium, for example, is as common as copper. The biggest problems for rare earth extracting companies are the dispersed nature of these metals and by products or waste such as gypsum.

Lynas mines the majority of it rare earth elements from the Mt. Weld site in Australia. The company estimates that the site holds 23.9 million tons of mineral resource, 1.9 million tons of which will be rare earth minerals. To put this amount in context, the whole of China exports only 35,000 tons of rare earths a year. Lynas’ mining policy is designed to reduce the environmental damage as much as possible. This is done by maximising health and safety, community development for nearby settlements, plus commitments to the environment and to the local economy.

Founded in 1983 as Yilgangi Gold NL, the company changed its name to Lynas two years later. Founded by Nicholas Curtis, the sole focus of Lynas Corporation is to develop rare earths. This began with the Mt. Weld site in Australia and is currently building a new Lynas Advanced Materials Plant, or LAMP for short, in Kuantan.

The company is among a select few that are at the forefront of developing green technologies via rare earth metals. This has allowed the company to work with the Malaysian government to arrange a processing license in Kuantan.

Malaysian government and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) checks have proved that Lynas’ work meets all compliance and safety standards. This means the project is good for the environment as well as for the local and national economy.

Given pioneer status, the Kuantan site is subject to a 12-year tax exemption designed to help the company develop the site and to provide employment for hundreds of employees. This has allowed Lynas to invest USD730 into the site, making Malaysia responsible for a sixth of all rare earths investments in the globe.

The plan is ship mined materials from Mt. Weld in Fremantle, Australian to the port of Kuantan to be processed. This makes it economically easier for the processed materials to be exported around the world. As a result, the investment will create jobs in not only the refinement plant, but also at the Kuantan docks to process the ships, and with companies seeking to buy and ship the refined product. It is hoped that technology and logistics companies such as Motorola and ParcelForce will set up business in Kuantan to create green energy devices such as solar panels in Malaysia.

Lynas plant in Gebeng, Pahang

This helps to put Malaysia at the forefront of technological development, not just in Asia but in the world. It is clear from the economic developments of the last decade, that rare earth mining in Malaysia will not only benefit Malaysian technological companies in the domestic or south-east Asian markets, but would attract greater investment and trade with fast developing super economies such as China and India, who are in great need of rare earth metals.