Prof. Koen Binnemans (RARE³ KU Leuven) in 3 pager in Knack on rare earths and antimony
The Flemish weekly quality news magazine Knack (13-1-2016) featured a 3-page interview with Prof. Koen Binnemans on the lessons learnt from the rare earth crisis. Attention goes out to the so-called balance problem. Binnemans also reflects on the potential parallels between the rare earth and antimony situation. In the case of the rare-earth crisis, Europe was unprepared and could only develop a re-active strategy, once the crisis hit its peak in 2011. Because of China’s policies at the time (cf. export quotas), Europe reacted with three courses of action: 1) primary mining of EU rare-earth deposits (Sweden, Greenland – cf. FP7 EURARE project), 2) substitution of critical rare earths by less critical ones or even other metals, and 3) the recycling of end-of-life rare-earth-rich products (e.g., Nd–Fe–B magnets or compact fluorescent lamps), to create a more diversified and sustainable rare-earth supply chain. The main issue with this strategy is that the developed solutions came too late. By the time they were commercially available, RE prices had dropped again due to specific (Chinese) market policies, making these solutions uneconomic and leaving EU-28 once again in a dependent situation. Binnemans concurs that the rare-earth crisis of 2010–2011 must act as a wake-up call to businesses and governments, highlighting the fact that access to critical metals, including Sb, cannot be taken for granted, as clearly indicated in the final report of the European Rare Earth Competency Network (ERECON), set up by the European Commission.8 In the case of Sb, there is an anticipated supply-demand gap, but a crisis moment has not yet happened. So there is still time to develop pro-active solutions, and a full-blown Sb supply crisis can be prevented. As part of this pro-active strategy we must also ensure a more diversified and sustainable Sb supply chain.