WHITE PAPER ON RARE EARTHS IN INDIA
By C. SWAMYDAS
Honourable Prime Minister Modi in his speech at CII webinar, June 2020 invited the private sector into defense and nuclear mineral supply chain in the country, which has special reference to the Rare Earth Elements (REEs), which are extremely critical to defense manufacturing facilities. He also said that now the industry has a clear path – self-reliant India. “This means that we embrace the world with even more strength. Self-reliant India will be integrated more with the global ecosystem,” he said. Self-reliant India is about — Strong enterprises; generating employment; empowering people to come out and find solutions. Now, the need is that we make those products that are made in India, but made for the world. We have to cut our imports. We want to create enterprises of global repute; we want to create a robust local supply chain. We want to make private sector our partner for growth, adding that “we will together build self-reliant India”
In “Report on India’s Renewable Electricity Roadmap 2030: Towards Accelerated Renewable Electricity Deployment”, Former Member (Energy) of the erstwhile Planning Commission of India had observed” We should not get into the mindset that RE is the intruder and conventional energy is the main player. Why not consider RE to be the main occupants of the “house” and then work out the rest of the system around RE, essentially because RE is the future?”
Rare Earths play dominant role in the development of the country. Rare earth elements are a group of 17 elements classified as LREE and HREE. LREE’s are Lanthanum (La), Cerium (Ce), Praseodymium (Pr), Neodymium (Nd), Samarium (Sm), Europium (Eu). HREE’s are Gadolinium (Gd), Terbium (Tb), Dysprosium (Dy), Holmium (Ho), Erbium (Er), Thulium (Th), Ytterbium (Yb), Lutetium (Lu), Yttrium (Y), Scandium (Sc), Promethium (Pm).
The reason behind the incredible value of the rare earth industry is that they are incredibly useful and important to the technology industry, which is one of the biggest industries in the world. They are integral to clean energy, computers, advanced transportation, national defense and consumer electronics. Another industry which is hugely dependent on rare earth metals is the renewable energy industry, and these metals are especially common in wind turbines and electrical vehicles.
- APPLICATION OF RARE EARTHS:
- Defense, Aerospace and aviation: Precision-guided munitions and guided bombs, target designators and range finders, electronic counter measures, coatings, optical equipment, communication devices, radar systems and displays, space shuttles, light weight jet engine turbines, stabilizer material in rocket nose cones, laser crystals, electrical systems in aircrafts, missile guidance systems, electronic countermeasures and other aircraft parts.
- Health Care: CAT scans, MRIs, PET imaging X-rays, laser and radioscopic cancer treatments, neodymium light lasers, motors in surgical robots etc.
- Clean Energy: Energy efficient lightings, LEDs, Wind energy, Solar energy, Electrical vehicles etc.
- Electronic Devices: Smart phone, GPS system, Colour display, Rechargeable batteries, Hard drives etc.
- Advanced Communications: GPS, Space satellites, Communication systems, signal amplification and fiber optic cables.
- Automobiles/ Electronics/Consumer goods/ Miscellaneous : TV sets, camera lenses, battery electrodes, hydrogen storage, catalytic converters, coloured glass and steel production, welding goggles, microphones, nuclear reactor control rods, fluorescent glass, shielding in nuclear reactors, fuel cells, sonar systems, high temperature super conductors, petrol refining, integrated circuit manufacturing, automobiles, bicycle, cosmetics, stationary materials, watches, ornaments, tooth brush and paste, toilet seat, soap, clothing, trains, and supplementary tablets.
- RARE EARTHS REQUIREMENT IN THE INDIA
As per the Power Minister’s news report on 12th November 2019 to Times of India, the renewable energy capacity in India is planned to increase from 85 GW to 145 GW by 2022 and more than 55% of the installed power generation in India will be from renewable sources by 2030. As per National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE), the potential of wind energy in the country with a minimum capacity factor of 20% ranges from 984 GW to 1549 GW for a 80 metre web height. The potential may be even higher when the web height increases from 80 metre to 120 metre. During the yearend review for 2018 of ministry of New and Renewable energy, it was decided that every year 10 GW wind energy will be added. As per Ministry of new and renewable energy, the solar power potential in the country is 750 GW. Both wind power and solar power require rare earths.
As per “Indian Automobile Industry Analysis” by Indian Brand Equity foundation, the total vehicle production in India during 2019 was 32 million. As indicated by NITI AYOG in their “Zero emission vehicles (ZEVs): Towards a policy framework”, 79% of them are two wheelers, 4% is 3 wheelers, buses and goods vehicles are 3% and the balance 14% is passenger vehicles.
The annual REE requirement in the country by 2030 will be minimum 25,000 t. (Annexure-1). The requirement will gradually increase from the existing level to this level by 2030 and may further increase after that based on our green energy requirement.
Present scenario: India presently produces only mixed rare earths of required quality. So far, after 70 years in this field, individual rare earth elements of required purity of 99.99/99.999/99.9999 is not produced in a commercial scale (May be other than Toyutsu), nor commercial production of rare earth metal, alloys, magnets and other REE based components is existing in India. This shows the complacent attitude of the concerned. All rare earths-based components required for various applications in India are presently being imported, mainly from China. It may not be out of place to mention that China had stopped REE and REE based components to Japan and USA when the relations between the countries were sour.
- RARE EARTH MINERAL RESOURCES IN INDIA
- Rare Earth Mineral sources:
Studies had been carried out to evaluate the primary RE minerals as well as extraction of REEs from secondary sources like fly ash, red mud etc., but the commercial viability and abundance are not encouraging. In India, as at present, the only techno-economically feasible mineral for production of rare earth elements is monazite, which occurs in the beach sand mineral deposits. Indian monazite contains typically 59% REE, 8-9% thorium and 0.35% uranium and the balance is phosphate. Monazite mineral always coexists with other minerals like ilmenite, garnet, zircon, rutile and sillimanite and it is called beach sand mineral deposit (BSM). For meeting the REE requirement Mining and processing of BSM for the production of monazite will also produce all the minerals. The table below shows the BSM deposits in the country.
|Reserves in India
|Percentage share of global reserves|
Table 1 ( *India figures are based on AMD. Hyderabad report. **World figures are based on USGS report for 2013)
- India’s attempt towards REE sector development :
Under the leadership of Dr. Homi Bhaba, India recognized the importance of rare earths way back in 1950 and started extracting the rare earths by forming a public sector company Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL) under Department of Atomic Energy. India, however could not make progress in this sector due to several reasons.
Though IREL was primarily set up to develop India’s capacity to produce rare earth, subsequently its focus shifted to other common minerals (which are comparatively easier to extract) as evident from the fact that the majority of its income is generated from the production and marketing of the common minerals contained in the beach sands such as ilmenite, rutile, zircon, sillimanite and garnet. Despite being an early mover, India could not develop itself as a manufacturer of rare earth elements and further value addition to metals and magnets. Even after 50 years of operating the plant set up in 1950, IREL never ventured or even interested in carrying out R&D activities for the production of high pure individual rare earth elements or further value addition to metals and magnets.
In 2004, IREL stopped the operation of the plant and started to construct a new plant with new technology to process 10,000 tpa of monazite to produce mixed rare earths. It is worth mentioning that even after having the experience in the operation of monazite processing for 50 years to produce mixed rare earths, the new 10000 tpa monazite processing facility set up by IREL in Orissa has not reached the full capacity till now. As per information in December 2019, the plant has reached only 60% capacity after about 15 years since the project work was started. It makes further clear that IREL, presently the nodal agency in India for REE may not be in a position to handle the new challenge of 50000 tpa monazite processing facility.
- PRESENT STATUS OF BEACH SAND MINERALS AND THEIR PRODUCTS IN INDIA:
The beach sand minerals mining activity in India is over a century old and commenced in 1908 when the beach sand containing monazite was mined and taken to European countries from the erstwhile Travancore state. After independence, the BSM sector was brought under the controlled regime due to the presence of monazite. It is pertinent to note that until 1998, this sector was restricted only to Public sector companies and there was no substantial development in the production capacity of these beach sand minerals and no significant value addition facilities. Recognising the untapped potential of the Beach Sand Minerals sector, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) announced the Policy on exploitation of Beach Sand Minerals in 1998 and opened up this sector to wholly Indian owned companies which brought in significant investments by private sector companies. Since entry of the private sector, the production of beach sand minerals has substantially increased and the export value has increased from Rs. 35 crores in 1998 to over Rs 5000 crores in 2016. The private sector producers have spearheaded not only mineral production but also invested in the value chain.
However, consequent to the MMDR Amendment in 2015 and subsequent release of AMCR in 2016, the scope for private sector in BSM processing was limited by fixing threshold value of monazite in the total heavy minerals as 0.75%. This was subsequently changed to 0.0%, totally eliminating the private sector in BSM mining.
The reason being mentioned for fixing this threshold value was that as monazite contains 0.3% uranium and 9-10% of thorium and there is scope for export of monazite from the country. It may be noted that all regulations are in place to avoid export of the mineral monazite from India. Radiation scanners are already available in all the ports for this purpose. It is worth mentioning that commercial thorium fuel reactors are not working anywhere in the world and the uranium available in monazite is negligible. In India, it is not certain when the thorium-based power plants will be fully operational is not known and the possibility is it may take another minimum 50 years for the full utilization of Thorium in reactors. Presently, monazite is considered as the source of thorium. Instead the mind set needs to be changed to recognize monazite as the main source of Rare Earth Elements and consider thorium as a byproduct.
Till the MMDR amendment in 2015 and AMCR 2016 rules were implemented, private mining companies were operating in India. Presently, IREL and Kerala Metals and Minerals Limited (KMML) are the companies engaged in mining of beach sand minerals. In addition, IREL is processing monazite to produce mixed rare earths. IREL has a plant capacity to process 10,000 tpa of monazite mineral, but reached only 60% capacity so far. Part of the mixed rare earths is processed by Toyutsu corporation, a Japanese company in India to produce individual rare earth elements for their further use. Part of the mixed rare earths is processed by IREL for separation of individual REEs, but so far the anticipated purity and capacity are not achieved. India possesses significant reserves of Ilmenite, Garnet and Monazite, a rare earth mineral ( Table 1), but these resources remain grossly underutilized with the production to reserve ratio ( PRR) being a meagre 0.0008 % when compared to global PRR of 0.01% . India is stuck in this paradox and must leverage its plentiful resources to transform into a major global player.
Presently, in spite of having world’s third large deposits of BSM, India is an importer of ilmenite, zircon, rutile and entire REE based components, resulting in a huge foreign exchange drain.
- SPIN OFF IN MEETING THE REE REQUIREMENT INDEGENOUSLY:
India has to produce and process around 50,000 tpa of monazite in the country to meet the indigenous demand for REE. At this rate, the monazite available in the country will last for more than 200 years.
Processing the BSM deposits for monazite recovery will result in the production of other minerals like ilmenite, rutile, zircon, garnet and sillimanite and also open up multifarious value chain operations in the country. The following are the value chain possibilities for the BSM.
BSM minerals value chain: By mining and separation of the BSM deposits, individual minerals are produced which are further value added as per details below:
- Garnet can be used as such and after powdering for sand blasting, water jet cutting, filtration, glass polishing and lapping.
- Ilmenite have the value chain in the production of TiO2 pigment, titanium metal and TiO2 nanomaterials. The applications are Paints, coatings, plastics, paper, ink, fibre, specialty chemicals, foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, defense, corrosion resistant alloys, in dye-sensitised solar cells, an arsenic removal agent, cancer treatment and pollution absorbent cement.
- Rutile in addition to be used in welding electrodes directly has a value chain to produce TiO2 and can be used for all the applications mentioned for ilmenite.
- By processing monazite mineral, mixed rare earth compounds are produced from which high purity individual rare earth elements are extracted. The individual rare earths are converted to RE metal for making alloys from which magnets are produced. From individual rare earths, other REE based products are made for industrial use.
Beach sand minerals associated with monazite and their derivatives find diverse applications in day to day use as well as strategic and high tech applications as indicated below :
|Sl. No||Mineral||Mineral products||Applications|
|Paints, coatings, plastics, paper, ink, fibre, specialty chemicals, foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, defence, corrosion resistant alloys, in dye-sensitised solar cells, an arsenic removal agent, cancer treatment and pollution absorbent cement.|
|TiO2 pigment||Welding electrode and all the above-mentioned applications|
|ceramics, foundry and investment casting, refractories, fused zirconia, abrasives and ceramic pigments, heat exchangers, reboilers, evaporators, reactor vessels, pumps, condensers, valves and piping, zircalloy tubes for holding the uranium pellets for nuclear plants.|
|4.||Garnet||Garnet powder||Sand blasting, water jet cutting, filtration, glass polishing and lapping.|
|5.||Sillimanite||cement, ceramics, glass making, metal smelting, refinery and treatment, tar distillation, coal carbonization, chemical manufacture and iron foundries.|
|6.||Monazite- contains 65% rare earths, 0.2%U and around 8-10% Th||(i)Rare earth elements and several products like
c. metal alloys
f. polishing powders
f. glass additives
(ii) uranium & thorium
|TV sets, cancer treatment drugs, camera lenses, battery electrodes, hydrogen storage, catalytic converters, coloured glass and steel production, super strong magnets, welding goggles, lasers, microphones, electric motors of hybrid automobiles, nuclear reactor control rods, fluorescent glass, shielding in nuclear reactors, fuel cells, sonar systems, commercial lighting, hard disk drives, transducers, signal amplification for fiber optic cables, high temperature super conductors, petrol refining, LED light bulbs and integrated circuit manufacturing, automobiles, bicycle, cosmetics, cell phones, solar panel, stationary materials, watches, wind turbines, aerospace, ornaments, tooth brush and paste, toilet seat, soap, clothing, trains, and supplementary tablets.
Uranium and thorium are present and future nuclear fuels.
- PROPOSED SCALE OF OPERATION:
As monazite co-exists with all these minerals, during mining and producing 50,000 tpa of monazite to meet the REE requirement of the country, the following minerals also will be produced.
The financial and socio economic benefits of producing and processing of 50,000 tpa of monazite and value addition of 25% of the ilmenite to meet the TiO2 requirements of the country with value chain for the minerals will be as follows:
- Capital Employed : Rs. 20,000 crores
- Turnover : Rs. 19,600 crores
- Revenue to states : Rs. 6,000 crores
- Direct manpower : 28,500
- Indirect labour : 35,000
This will also result in import reduction, dependence on China for imports, self-reliance and help the “Atmanirbhar”.
- MINING PLOICY CONSTRAINTS:
The issue is whether IREL or any other government entities will alone be able to set up the necessary facilities for this large scale of mining, mineral separation and value addition. Even in 1998 Beach Sand Policy, it was recognized that with government sector alone, the expected development of the sector was not possible and the policy recognized that Private sector participation was essential for the development of the BSM sector. Based on the track record of IREL over the last seven decades, it may not be possible to become self-sufficient in REEs with government companies alone and private sector participation must be encouraged to fast track the development of this sector to avoid dependence on China.
The amendment of MMDR Act 1957 in 2015 and the introduction of AMCR 2016 for these minerals, has totally denied the opportunity for private players in this sector. Even existing players had to close down their operations. Some of the clauses in the MMDR Act and AMCR 2016 rules, requiring immediate attention are:
- a. MMDR Act 1957- amendment 2015: classification of Beach sand minerals:
In the MMDR Act 1957, Ilmenite, Rutile, Zircon, leucoxene and Monazite were classified as Atomic minerals and placed under Part B of First schedule, since these minerals were categorized as “Prescribed substances “ in the Atomic Energy Act. However, from 1-1-2007 all these minerals except Monazite were delisted from the list of Prescribed substances and the Ministry of Mines was approached to delist all these minerals from the “Atomic Minerals”. However, this was not done and in the MMDR Act amendment 2015, all these minerals still continue as Atomic Minerals. Further, vide notification dated July 11, 2016, an item 12 inserted in Part B in the First Schedule states “Beach sand minerals that is economic heavy minerals found in teri or beach sands which include ilmenite, rutile, leucoxene, garnet, monazite, zircon and sillimanite “. This notification including Garnet and Sillimanite in Part B in the First Schedule is an illogical and retrograde action and the Government must make legislative changes to remove all beach sand minerals except monazite from Part B under Atomic Minerals and all these minerals except Monazite maybe classified as Beach sand minerals (Part C of first schedule as proposed in the draft MMDR Act in 2011) and a separate beach sand minerals concession rules may be brought in along with a monazite policy as earlier proposed by DAE.
- b. Atomic Minerals Concession Rules (AMCR )2016: The newly introduced AMCR 2016 proposes to reserve all BSM deposits containing more than 0.75% monazite in the THM for government owned corporations. This is now made as 0.0%, which totally denies opportunity for private sector in the BSM sector. This needs a relook, as with the government sector alone, BSM sector operations for producing the required REEs in India is not possible and the private sector needs to be encouraged in this sector The AMCR 2016 needs revision as otherwise in its present form denies opportunities for the private sector. All the minerals in the BSM assemblage excluding monazite are clearly non-atomic. These rules which are aimed at controlling the mining and processing of monazite are in effect restraining the utilisation of the other minerals and curbing development of the entire beach sand minerals industry. Further, monazite contains 65% high value rare earths which are non-atomic besides 3% uranium and 8-10% of thorium. The government must revisit these rules and make positive changes to enable and encourage mining and processing of all the beach sand minerals including monazite and provide a level playing field to both public sector and private sector miners in the interest of the national requirement of REEs. The Government must adopt a pragmatic and balanced approach so as to enable BSM development with adequate safeguards to address the safety and security concerns around monazite. The mineral monazite needs to be considered as a rare earth resource than a thorium reserve as REES are the need of the day.
- The BSM comprises an assemblage of all heavy minerals and the lessees must be permitted to mine and separate all minerals which will maximise mineral development. We must utilize these valuable mineral resources now for the economic development of our nation, as otherwise with current innovations in technology and development of alternate materials, these minerals resources may become worthless after few years.
- These minerals occur along the coastal tracts and beaches covering both government and privately owned lands. These lands are being diverted for other purposes including housing which will make it impossible for mining at a later stage.
- BEACH SAND MINERALS – WAY FORWARD TO UNLOCK RARE EARTH VALUES IN THE COUNTRY
The National Mineral Policy is aimed at maximizing mineral development, attracting foreign direct investment and bringing in latest technologies into mineral production and further value addition. The present government is focused on industrial development and mining is one of the core sectors that drive industrial growth and GDP. The Beach sand minerals resource is a classic example of an underutilized mineral asset, wherein India has ample world class mineral resources but still forced to import these very same mineral products. Immediate reforms are necessary to overcome this paradox and to make India self-sufficient and self-reliant in BSM based products. Towards this goal, the government may bring in legislative changes to make the BSM mining policy development oriented, investor friendly and improve the ease of doing business. The present Government initiated the “Make in India” programme and has liberalized the rules in several sectors including Defense which has attracted fresh investments and accelerated industrial growth and GDP. The Government should provide the same impetus to the BSM sector with industry friendly policies to “Mine in India” and “Make in India” for these BSM minerals and value-added products. The following points may be considered as guidelines for development of this sector in order to develop the REE industry in the country.:
- The beach sand minerals including monazite may be classified as a separate group under Part C of first schedule as proposed in the draft MMDR Act in 2011).
- All the minerals other than monazite may be removed from the list of prescribed substances and atomic minerals.
- Separate mineral concession rules may be framed for these minerals safeguarding monazite, thorium and uranium and the concept of threshold value of monazite may be done away with providing level playing field for government sector and the private sector.
- Encourage Private sector participation in BSM production and value addition.
- All minerals other than monazite may be allowed to be exported as was done prior to 2005 with a simple method of getting a monazite certificate from the regulatory authorities and the present system of canalization through IREL, a competing producer shall be done away with.
- Interested miners may be allowed to process monazite to produce rare earths with a condition that the thorium and uranium values shall be handed over to the government free of cost.
- At least 25% of the ilmenite produced must insisted be processed in the country to produce value added products like synthetic rutile or titanium dioxide.
- If possible, zircon also may be value added in the country.
- All the regulatory requirements in the national interest shall be entrusted to an autonomous body like Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. A separate body can even be made exclusively for this.
- WORLD SCENERIO TODAY:
The major producer of rare earth elements and rare earth based components in the world is China. At one point of time, China produced more than 90% of the rare earths produced around the world. When China denied supplies to Japan, other developed and developing countries started to develop their REE sector to be self- sufficient. It may be noted that USA had increased their REE production by 44% in 2019 over their 2018 production. Many of these countries are also developing the end products containing REE for direct use in the engineering and other industries. The present world trend is to free their dependence on China for the REEs and REE based products. This becomes all the more important with the green energy sector like wind turbines, solar power and electric vehicles. It is to be noted that all the developing and developed countries are planning to produce the REE based components for their internal use and no surplus is expected to be established in any country other than China.
- INDIAN SCENERIO TODAY:
India, after being in REE processing for the last seventy (70) years is only at the primary stage of mixed rare earths production which will not even meet the 20% requirement in the country. Commercial production of individual REEs of required purity is yet to be established and further value chain to metal to powder to alloys to magnets and other products containing REEs in the commercial scale is still a dream in India. All the industries in India using REE based components are only importing and major source at present is China, as no other country in the world seems to have surplus. India has to fast track the development of REEs and REE products as otherwise “India will be totally dependent on China for years together for the REE products, which is not in the country’s interest considering the present situation.”
India has to wake up to the reality where the country is now to meet the various development plans and take suitable decision to fast track the REE development in the country by involving private sector in BSM mining, monazite processing and production of REE based products in the country. The advantage of private sector is that they have financial and technical capabilities in all these activities and where required, they can bring in technical capabilities easily and in a faster way. Private sector will also be able to produce the products at comparatively lower cost. This will make our Honourable Prime Minister’s “Make in India” programme a reality and build a “self- reliant India”.
Author: The author is an engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, with a post graduate engineering degree from University of Rochester, USA. From 1970 onwards, he is in the beach sand minerals industry both in public and private sector in India and abroad, having experience in mining, mineral separation and value addition projects for ilmenite, zircon and monazite minerals and still continuing his service in these fields.
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CALCULATION OF RARE EARTH REUIREMENTS IN INDIA BY 2030
|a.||Annual Addition of wind power contemplated||GW||10||Ref:1|
|b.||REE requirement per MW||kg||230||Ref:2|
|c.||Annual REE requirement for wind energy||tonne||2300|
|a.||Total Vehicles in 2019||million||31||Ref:3|
|b.||With an annual increase of 5% requirement, the vehicles in 2030
Two wheelers (79%)
4 wheelers passenger vehicles (14%)
Buses and Goods vehicle (3%)
|c.||REE requirement per vehicle
|REE requirement for 30% vehicle penetration in 2030|
|a.||Two and Three wheelers||tonne||2944|
|b.||EV passenger vehicle||tonne||10710|
|c.||Non-EV passenger vehicle||tonne||1428|
|d.||Buses and Goods vehicles||tonne||330|
|Total REE for automobile sector by 2030||tonne||15418|
|Total REE requirement for wind mills and EVs||tonne||17718|
|Estimated requirement for all other uses||tonne||7282||Ref:7|
|TOTAL ANNUAL REE REQUIREMENT IN THE COUNTRY
Ref:1 – Ministry of New and Renewable energy year end review 2018
Ref:2 – European Wind Energy Association
Ref:3 – Indian Automobile Industry Analysis by India Brand Equity Foundation
Ref:4 – NITI AYOG – Zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) : Towards policy framework
Ref:5 – An assessment of rare earth content of conventional and electric vehicles
Ref:6 – Four things you should know about magnets for EVs- Electronic Design Magazine 2017
Ref:7 – As there is no assessment for REEs in the country had been done so far, it is assumed that for other applications 30% of the total will be required.