By Krishna N Das
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is commissioning a plant to produce up to 5,000 tonnes of rare earths a year, a state company official told Reuters, which could help it contribute about 5 percent to the global supply of the metals used in cameras, cars, iPhones and wind turbines.
India's emergence as a supplier, albeit a small one, would be good news for countries like Japan, which up to now have had to rely mostly on China for rare earths production.
The plant in the state of Odisha would produce rare earth oxides by processing monazite from beach sand, said S. Surya Kumar, head of the Rare Earths Division for state-owned Indian Rare Earths, part of the Department of Atomic Energy.
Up to half of the output would be processed into products like lanthanum and cerium, which are used in camera lenses and glass polishing agents, Kumar said.
Kumar did not give a timeline for when rare earth oxides will start flowing from the Odisha plant.
Indian Rare Earths and Toyotsu Rare Earths India, a unit of Japan's Toyota Tsusho, already have an agreement to equally share the 5,000 tonnes of rare earth expected to come out of the plant, Kumar said.
Indian Rare Earths is expected to sign a further agreement on joint production of mixed rare earths with Toyota Tsusho when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart meet in Tokyo next week, the Nikkei business daily reported earlier on Thursday.
China, which produces more than 90 percent of the world's rare earth metals, this month lost an appeal at the World Trade Organization in a case brought by the United States, the European Union and Japan to challenge China's restrictions on exports of rare earths.
(Editing by Tom Hogue)