Explained: What are rare earth elements, and why is India keen to join a global alliance to ensure their supply?

Source: The post is based on the article “Explained: What are rare earth elements, and why is India keen to join a global alliance to ensure their supply?” published in Indian Express on 4th August 2022.

What is the News?

India is working through its diplomatic channels to fetch an entry into the Mineral Security Partnership.

What is a Mineral Security Partnership(MSP)?

It is a  US-led partnership to secure supply chains of critical minerals, aimed at reducing dependency on China.

Aim: To catalyze investment from governments and the private sector to develop strategic opportunities.

Members: US, Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the European Commission.

Significance of the alliance: The MSP will focus on the supply chains of minerals such as Cobalt, Nickel, Lithium, and also the 17 ‘rare earth’ minerals. 

– The alliance is also seen as primarily focused on evolving as an alternative to China, which has created processing infrastructure in rare earth minerals and has acquired mines in Africa for elements such as Cobalt.

Why is India not part of MSP?

According to experts, the reason India would not have found a place in the MSP grouping is because India does not bring any expertise to the table. In the group, countries like Australia and Canada have reserves and also the technology to extract them, and countries like Japan have the technology to process REEs.

What are Rare Earth Metals?

Rare earth elements (REEs) are a group of seventeen chemically similar metallic elements on the periodic table. It comprises 15 lanthanides elements (lanthanum to lutetium), plus scandium and yttrium. REEs are classified as light RE elements (LREE) and heavy RE elements (HREE).

Some REEs are available in India — such as Lanthanum, Cerium, Neodymium, Praseodymium and Samarium, etc. 

Others such as Dysprosium, Terbium, and Europium, which are classified as HREEs, are not available in Indian deposits in extractable quantities. 

Hence, there is a dependence on countries such as China for HREEs, which is one of the leading producers of REEs with an estimated 70% share of the global production.

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