Our readers among high-tech and consumer electronics supply chains are well aware that the supply and costs of rare earth minerals continues to be a supply chain. China has positioned itself to the primary global supplier of such strategic materials and has in the past exercised export quotas to favor its own domestic high tech industry needs. Supply Chain Matters touched upon this challenge in a 2011 commentary related to Phillips Electronics.
Bloomberg recently reported that a closely held miner from the country of Chile, Mineria Activa, has come up with a far different, green-mining and perhaps more sustainable approach for the mining of rare earths. The report indicates that elements such as neodymium and dysprosium are contained in clay soils near the city of Concepcion in concentrations similar to China. The difference, however, is rather than pumping chemicals into the ground for extracting these minerals, methods have been derived to dig out the clay, place it in a tank-leaching process with biodegradable chemicals and return the clean clay to the ground, while replanting displaced vegetation and trees.
The bet here is that certain manufacturers and OEM’s such as Apple, ThyssenKrupp or Raytheon are willing to pay a premium knowing that the supply is not destroying the planet.
Bloomberg points out that given the current recent capacity glut resulting in declines in the prices of certain rare earth materials, the timing of this development may not be ideal. The again, companies such as Apple with strong commitments to sustainability and green supply chain practices may be willing to consider a strategic supply alternative.