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Japan trading firms say China blocked rare earths exports
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 24, 2010

Rare earths: what are they used for?
Beijing (AFP) Sept 24, 2010 - China, which supplies at least 95 percent of the world's rare earths, has blocked exports of the minerals to Japan, according to Japanese trading houses, amid a row between the Asian neighbours.

The following are examples of how these resources are used:


- dysprosium, neodymium, praseodymium, samarium, terbium

Energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs

- europium, terbium, yttrium

Hybrid vehicles

- dysprosium, lanthanum, neodymium, praseodymium, terbium

Automotive catalytic converters

- cerium

Wind turbines

- dysprosium, neodymium, praseodymium, terbium

Fibre optics

- erbium, europium, terbium, yttrium

Metal 'foam' developed for bone implants
Dresden, Germany (UPI) Sep 23, 2010 - A new material for bone implants could replace current solid metal implants and improve flexibility and bone regrowth, Germa engineers say. Typical solid metal implants -- usually titanium -- are well tolerated by the body but cause problems by being significantly stiffer than bone, reported. The implant may end up carrying a far higher load than the bone it is placed next to, says Peter Quadbeck of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials Research in Dresden, Germany. In a worst-case scenario, he says, the decrease in stress placed on the surrounding natural bone means it will deteriorate, while the implant loosens and needs to be replaced.

Quadbeck and colleagues have created a titanium implant with a foam-like structure, inspired by the spongy nature of bone. The titanium foam does a better job than solid metal when it comes to matching the mechanical properties of bone, they say. And the foam is porous, so the bone can grow around and within it, truly integrating the implant with the skeleton. Peter Lee of the Department of Materials at Imperial College London says he is impressed. There are applications where inserting one of these titanium foams "looks like the most promising solution," he says, such as bridging long gaps between broken bones.

China blocked rare earth exports to Japan days before Tokyo's decision Friday to free a Chinese boat captain whose detention sparked the worst diplomatic row between the sides in years, traders said.

Beijing denied reports it had prevented shipments of the rare minerals that many of Japan's top exporters, such as the world's biggest automaker Toyota, rely on to make cutting-edge products ranging from car batteries to computers.

But traders in Tokyo said that China had blocked exports to Japan of key minerals by slowing down administrative procedures in ports in Shanghai and Guangzhou to prevent materials being loaded on ships.

"We heard from our officials in China that the shipping of rare earths (to Japan) was suspended on September 21," a spokesman for Japanese trading house Sojitz in Tokyo told AFP.

Japan on Friday said it would release a Chinese fishing boat captain arrested earlier this month after a collision between his trawler and two Japanese coastguard vessels in a disputed area of the East China Sea.

The move was hoped to help ease tensions that had dramatically risen in recent days, with Chinese leaders threatening "further measures" against Tokyo if the captain was not immediately released.

But China reiterated Friday that Japan's detention of the captain had been "illegal and invalid".

Another trader from a different trading house who wished to remain anonymous also said Beijing was blocking exports to Japan of rare minerals, underlining China's control of a market crucial to some of the world's biggest companies.

"We heard from our Chinese trading partners that exports of rare earths to Japan are being stopped," the trader said, adding that Beijing had directly encouraged firms to slow or stop exports.

"On September 22, Chinese companies who have licences for exporting to Japan were gathered in Beijing by China's commerce ministry. There were discussions of stopping (rare earth) exports to Japan," he said.

China's commerce ministry on Thursday denied a report in the New York Times that cited industry sources as saying Beijing had blocked exports of rare earth minerals to Japan.

Japan's minister for economy, trade and industry Akihiro Ohata said Friday that the government was aware trading houses had reported a suspension of rare earth exports, adding it was still confirming the information.

China supplies at least 95 percent of the world's rare earths. It had previously placed restrictions on exports of the minerals, sending market prices soaring and sparking concern among foreign governments and companies.

Previous media reports said the country was considering banning the export of certain elements and closing mines.

Foreign companies and governments fear Chinese control will deny them access to the metals used to make everything from hybrid vehicles to energy-saving lightbulbs, missiles and wind turbines, forcing manufacturers to shift their plants to China.

Market prices of some types of rare earth metals have soared more than 20 percent since China announced in July that it planned to reduce global shipments.

Last month, before the row erupted, Japan had urged China to expand rare earths exports.


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