Rare Earths: Malaysia’s Perak State Eyeing Cooperation With China

by | 23. Oct 2023 - 13:14 | Economy

Government officials visit rare earth production facilities in Southern China.

The Malaysian Minerals and Geoscience Department announced the discovery of rare earth element (REE) deposits of around 16 million tons earlier this year. Simultaneously, the Malaysian government announced plans to ban the export of unprocessed rare earth products to “guarantee maximum returns for the country” by building its own REE value chains.

To advance these plans, officials of the local government of the state of Perak, including the state’s first minister, Saarani Mohamad, traveled to Southern China over the weekend, where they visited a rare earth production facility of China Rare Earth Group in Nanning. The facility is taking its feedstock from so-called ion-adsorption clays, which require fewer production steps than more common deposits of REEs like carbonatite bodies but are less abundant. They are currently only mined in Southern China and neighboring Myanmar. Similar clays have been found in Malaysia and promise a high potential source of REEs. The similarity of the deposits means that Malaysia could harness Southern Chinese expertise, underlining the visit’s goal of advancing the country’s REE mining industry. China Rare Earth Group is a state-controlled conglomerate founded in 2021 by merging three of the top six rare earth mining companies. The merger was part of Beijing’s strategy to make the sector more competitive and to gain more control over the mining industry by consolidating companies.

Malaysia has been involved in the rare earth industry for decades, mainly as a producer of the REE containing minerals monazite and xenotime as byproducts of tin retreatment (PDF). The state of Perak is home to most of the country’s tin production, accounting for over 80 percent of the total volume. The name of the state is the Malay word for silver, thought to come from the silvery tin ore.

However, the country’s rare earth industry is currently not centered around mining but processing. Australian mining company Lynas operates one of the world’s largest REE refining facilities outside China in the East of the Malaysian Peninsula. However, Lynas has met with opposition from the Malaysian government due to the cracking and leeching processing steps that leave behind trace amounts of radioactive residue. The government ordered Lynas to find a location outside Malaysia for these production steps to gain renewed operating licenses. The deadline has since been extended to January 2024.

Facade of Ipoh railway station in Perak’s capital, Ipoh. The city was built during the height of tin mining in Malaysia. Photo: iStock/Jui-Chi Chan

Read more: On the other side of the globe, Brazil could join the list of ion-adsorption clay mining countries soon, too, as the Chilean mining company Aclara Resources announced promising results from test drills in Brazil’s state of Goiás.

Photo: iStock/Edwin Tan

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