China still faces big challenges in promoting the sustainable development and utilization of its non-renewable rare earth resources and ensuring the rare earth industry's green and healthy development during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), said a member of the Standing Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
Li Wei, also an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and deputy chief engineer of China Iron & Steel Research Institute Group (CISRI). "There's serious waste of the resource and low rate of utilization though the resource is abundant in China," added Li.
As a senior researcher in the area, Li said China ranks first in the world in rare earth reserves, output, export and consumption and is the only country that can supply all the rare earth elements. China also owns a complete rare earth industrial system with obvious technical advantages in rare earth mining, smelting and separation.
In recent years, China's rare earth materials industry has initially formed an innovation system with relatively complete disciplines and basically complete industrialization of research, development and application. China is quickening its transition from a country rich in rare earth resources to a country with a strong capacity in rare earth development relying on its strategic and economic advantages in rare earth resources, according to Li.
Li warned of potential risks in the supply of heavy rare earth resources to China, which mainly depends on imports from other countries including Myanmar and Vietnam.
Despite all the challenges, Li put forward measures to promote the green and sustainable development of rare earth resources, including safeguarding China's international voice in the rare earth industry, balancing the relationship between production capacity, output and demand, and allocating the rare earth resources based on market demands.
Li also called for a joint strategic reserve of rare earth resources by the Chinese government and enterprises in order to stabilize the prices.
He encouraged China's rare earth enterprises to go global, to strengthen the ability to leverage international rare earth resources and support the import, development and utilization of overseas rare earth resources that meet China’s safety requirements and environmental protection standards.
"In addition, we should promote scientific and technological innovation as an impulse to boost the country's rare earth industry," Li said, adding that China should build more high-level platforms such as national key laboratories and national-level innovation centers on new rare earth materials and tilt towards major fundamental research on new materials, in a bid to make breakthroughs in core technology development and generation of independent intellectual property rights.
He said China should encourage high-end industries that produce robots, high-end machine tools and advanced medical equipment to select homegrown rare earth materials and facilitate product iteration.
He also proposed more support for the application of lanthanum, cerium, yttrium and other rare earth resources in new areas such as new energy, electronic information, and communication transmission.
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