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Rare earths facility in Stepnogorsk is ready for operations

Rare earths producing facility constructed in Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan, by a Kazakh-Japanese JV SARECO is ready to start its operations, a Tengrinews.kz journalist reports.

It is to be officially launched early December after being shown to President Nazarbayev. November 2, KazAtomProm Head Vladimir Shkolnik and Sumito Corporation Senior Managing Executive Officer Toru Furihata cut the ribbon at the facility.

“We are beginning start-up and adjustment operations at the facility that marks commencement of the rare earth industry in Kazakhstan”, Mr. Shkolnik said, reminding that the project was brought to life following President Nazarbayev’s visit to Japan.

“At the initial stage, production of rare earth concentrates will stand at 1 500 tons to be further brought up to 5 000 – 6 000 a year. The facility is expected to transform into a vertically integrated complex to produce high-tech rare earths-related products. By 2017 we plan to start production of supramagnets based on rare earths”, he said.

He also emphasized that SARECO already has a series of orders, with Japan being the major market.

As defined by IUPAC, rare earth elements or rare earth metals are a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table. Because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms.

According to mnn.com, much of rare earths' appeal lies in their ability to perform obscure, highly specific tasks. Europium provides red phosphor for TVs and computer monitors, for example, and it has no known substitute. Cerium similarly rules the glass-polishing industry, with "virtually all polished glass products" dependent on it, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Permanent magnets are another big role for rare earths. Their light weight and high magnetic strength have made it possible to miniaturize a wide range of electronic parts, including many used in home appliances, audio/video equipment, computers, cars and military gear. Innovations like small, multi-gigabyte jump drives and DVD drives likely wouldn't exist without rare earth magnets, which are often made from a neodymium alloy but may also contain praseodymium, samarium, gadolinium or dysprosium.

While producing rare earths can cause environmental problems, they have an eco-friendly side, too. They're vital to catalytic converters, hybrid cars and wind turbines, for example, as well as energy-efficient fluorescent lamps and magnetic-refrigeration systems. Their low toxicity is an advantage, too, with lanthanum-nickel-hydride batteries slowly replacing older kinds that use cadmium or lead.

Yosuke KONDO, Senior Vice Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan, stressed that for quite a while Japan had lacked a stable supplier of rare earths due to a long-lasting monopoly of another country for such elements.

The Stepnogorsk-based facility is expected to employ 250 Kazakhstan people.
05 november 2012, 10:10
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