Weak Rare Earth Demand from China’s Catalyst Industry in 2019 H1

Aug. 5, 2019

Rare earth consumption for catalytic converters down on weak passenger vehicle production

According to the Association of China Rare Earth Industry (“ACREI”), China’s domestic manufacturers produced approximately 7.6 million liters of vehicle exhaust gas catalyst in the first half of 2019, a decrease of 13% year-over-year on weak passenger vehicle production.

Vehicle exhaust gas catalysts comprised of platinum-group metals are used in three-way catalytic converters of gasoline-powered vehicles to convert harmful pollutants in the vehicle’s exhaust stream into less harmful varieties.

In a three-way catalytic converter, cerium oxide (along with small amounts of other light rare earth oxides) is commonly substituted for a fraction of the platinum-group metals used in both the reduction and oxidation catalysts.

Rare earth consumption by oil refining industry up just 2% on back of slowing vehicle sales and ongoing electrification of transportation

Similarly, according to ACREI, China’s output of fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) catalyst amounted to 105,000 tonnes in the first half of 2019, an increase of 2% over the same period the year prior.

Fluid catalytic cracking catalysts are a form of molecular sieve used by the oil refining industry to break down crude oil into lighter hydrocarbons, such as gasoline, diesel and kerosene.

Lanthanum oxide is commonly added to FCC catalysts to increase gasoline yield and improve the thermal stability of the catalyst so it can be efficiently regenerated and reused.

While a multitude of different rare earth elements are suitable for this application, lanthanum oxide is the choice input of most FCC catalyst manufacturers because it is relatively cheap and not as challenging to dissolve as cerium oxide.

Report: Rare Earth Market and Pricing Outlook to 2030

In this report, we forecast global rare earth supply and demand to 2030 under two scenarios to examine how oxide prices will evolve in the years ahead.

With mounting supply risks in both China and Malaysia, the potential for near-term price increases is high in 2019. If Lynas is forced to halt production in Malaysia in September, we expect availability of neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, terbium and gadolinium to grow increasingly limited, and prices to rise accordingly.

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