Molycorp to mothball rare earths mine in California
Molycorp Inc., the only U.S. producer of rare earths, on Wednesday said it would mothball its mine in California, laying off almost 500 workers and suspending the country’s sole source of the 15 elements used in magnets, batteries and other high-tech products.
[ by John Miller | August 27, 2015 | MarketWatch ]
Molycorp said it would put its Mountain Pass mine on the California-Nevada border on “care and maintenance” by Oct. 20, although it would continue to produce at processing plants in Estonia and China.
Rare earths are essential to making everything from cars to iPhones, but they are needed in such minuscule quantities that it doesn’t take much to oversupply the market.
That is what happened to Molycorp. Prices collapsed, forcing the Greenwood Village, Colo.-based company to file for chapter 11 protection in June, one of the biggest corporate failures in a rotten year for miners hit by slumping commodity prices and slowing demand from their biggest customer, China.
Molycorp said Wednesday it could restart the mine depending on “market conditions and other factors that are difficult to forecast.” Demand is still relatively good for rare earths, especially from the clean-energy sector, the company said. A bigger problem is supply, which Molycorp said has been exacerbated by “an ongoing tsunami of rare earths that are produced via unregulated and illicit mines and processors in China.”