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Korea to foster indium, lithium exploration

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Published : 2011-07-05 19:18
Updated : 2011-07-05 19:18

Korea will crank up its push for exploit indium and lithium around the world by facilitating local companies’ direct investment into the two scarce metals by law, the government said Tuesday.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said it plans to place indium, a key element of liquid crystal displays and touch-screens, on a list of 49 foreign rare metals. Lithium, used in aircraft and electric car batteries, will be added to the list of 11 target materials for investment.

The revised law would enable Korean developers to get loans and other financial support for their overseas projects and to send large sums of foreign currency abroad. Companies would also benefit from tax breaks and investment insurance through the creation of funds, the ministry said.

The move reflects the government’s efforts to ensure steady supplies of the two rare materials to quench the ever-growing thirst of electronics powerhouses such as Samsung and LG.

“The decision was made with an aim to invigorate private investment in those rare metals and overseas development projects,” the ministry said in a statement.

Spiraling prices of the metals have sparked jitters in the economy which is heavily reliant on mineral imports.

Costs of indium rose more than 3.7 times from $183 per kilogram in 2003 to $684 as of May, according to the ministry. Lithium prices nearly doubled to $4.54 per kilogram for the same period.

Although Korea is the world’s fourth-largest indium producer with nearly 50,000 tons of annual production, it additionally imported 108 tons last year, up nearly fourfold in a year.

China remains the top indium supplier with about 330,000 tons as of 2009, according to the United States Geological Survey, followed by Japan with 60,000 tons and Canada with 50,000 tons.

As for lithium, Korea saw its imports jump more than 50 percent from about 5,200 tons in 2008 to around 8,000 tons last year, worth almost $41 million.

The soft, silver-white metal is extremely rare. Its global output came to only 18,000 tons in 2009, USGS data showed.

Chile has the largest reserves, digging up about 7,400 tons a year. Among other producers are Australia, China and Argentina with 4,400 tons, 2,300 tons and 2,200 tons, respectively.

By Shin Hyon-hee(heeshin@heraldcorp.com)