Hitachi Joins California Rare Earths Race


The United States’ only rare earth mine is set to re-open by the end of this year–as we reported yesterday–and today the Japanese giant, Hitachi, announced it’s joining Mitsubishi and the Sumitomo Corporation in a financial partnership with the Mountain Pass rare earths mine owner, Molycorp Minerals.

The agreement between Molycorp and Hitachi will be finalized by early 2011 and will include joint ventures to produce nodymium magnets and neodymium magnet alloys, ingredients used in wind turbines, electric and hybrid vehicles, and industrial motors.
In addition to the U.S. rare earths source, the Japanese have begun to look elsewhere as China’s supply is currently cut off to them due to the detaining of a Chinese fisherman in contested waters.

Sojitz Corporation has reached a deal with the Australian Lynas Corporation and the Toyota Motors-affilated Toyota Tsusho group has announced plans to process rare earths in India and begin shipping to Japan in 2012. So long as China locks its rare earths gates, Japan is being forced to cement long-term ties with other countries in order to power its extensive automobile manufacturing industry.

Canada may also be a contender for companies in search of rare earths; an exploration site near Grand Bay-Westfield in New Brunswick has seen investment more than triple from last year ($27.6 million compared to $8.1 million in 2009). Investments are also being made in Adex Mining Inc.’s Mount Pleasant Mine and Kria Resources Ltd.’s Halfmile Lake base.

The California rare earth mine is the largest in North America, and its re-opening has been much anticipated since its 2002 closure due to competition with the Chinese.

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[Image by Alex Strauss]