Interview with Dr. Chen Zhanheng, Chinese Society of Rare Earths

Posted by admin at 9:49 AM on Nov 23, 2010


I met Dr. Chen Zhanheng at the recent Metal Events Ltd. and Roskill’s Rare Earths Conference in Hong Kong. Dr. Chen Zhanheng has been with the Chinese Society of Rare Earths for 18 years, and is in charge of Science exchange and consulting services. He has published on a number of topics in the rare earths sphere, including (but not limited to):

  • The REE market
  • Thermodynamic properties of LaCrO3
  • Nanocrystalline Powders
  • New REE materials and their applications

Dr. Chen Zhanheng was kind enough to answer some questions that I submitted to him, and he agreed that I could post them here. He has been extremely gracious with his time and I extend my sincere thanks to him!

Please enjoy, as he provides some interesting insight into a variety of topics. Here is the written interview:

Where did you receive your education?

1985-1989 University of Science and Technology Beijing, Bachelor Degree;

1989-1992 Graduate School, University of Science and Technology Beijing, Master Degree;

2002-2008 Graduate School, University of Science and Technology Beijing, PhD.

Was there a particular person or project that was pivotal in your studies?

Sure, there are many persons affecting my studies, all kinds of medium and experts illuminating my thinking space. As I said at the Hong Kong conference, to study rare earth resources, market, environment and application all are my personal interests. Not any project, but the fantastic advanced rare earth materials related hi-tech attracted me.

How important is the study of rare earths?

Techniques with rare earths have permeated our everyday life, such as consumer electronics, new energy technique and defense system, though most of the people don’t know what rare earths are.

What has been the biggest surprise in your study of the REEs?

The biggest surprise is that China enterprises were left far behind those development countries in design and development of end products. Many capitals were invested in resource industries.

The Chinese Society of Rare Earths is very important in China. What role does it play in the Chinese Rare Earth industry?

It consists of many rare earth experts; they are the most important intellect resources to support the development of the Chinese Rare Earth Industry. CSRE is just an academic organization; it could provide the government with some macroscopic and constructive recommendation on rare earth science and technology, and also rare earth industry, but does not set any policies, has no rights.

How many members does the Chinese Society of Rare Earths have?

More than 3000 members, including 160 advanced members, and 60 of them are the core members.

How important are the rare earths to China?

China once was proud of its rare earth resources—the biggest one. But the application was left behind.

China is planning to develop 7 new strategy industries, such as electric vehicles, wind powder, energy saving industry as you know, all the seven strategy industries are related to rare earth materials, I think. In fact, in hi-tech industry, the whole world is involved in rare earth materials. So not only to China, but the whole world, rare earths are very important. So I myself strongly recommend establishing a stable multi-supply system.

If China wants to transform the resource growth economies to the technique growth economies like Japan as soon as possible, there are still a long time to go, may be 10, 20, 30….years.

What are the hopes for the rare earths industry in China for the next 5 years?

I hope after consolidation and strict environment management, the industry could recover from disordered development to a reasonable style, the environment and the polluted area are improved greatly, and regional rare earth economies are well established.

How closely do you follow rare earth events outside of China?

I am not that close to rare earth events out of China, for my personal ability and knowledge limitation.

Do you think any new rare earth mines will be opened in China over the next five years?

No new exploitation could be allowed.

Are many Chinese companies looking at rare earth projects outside of China?

No, maybe there is, but I do not know.

How many rare earth research centers are there in China?

Almost all science and technology universities and institutes are related to rare earths, as to the biggest and the most professional, 7-10 I think.

What were the key role, support and programs of the Chinese Government that allowed the rare earth industry to become so successful?

The government paid great attention in rare earth exploration, exploitation, separation and smelting, and provided with huge financial support from basic research to application, and promoted the development and application of rare earth advanced materials.

The rare earth industry in China is really not that successful in my mind, the environment was damaged, the valued resources were wasted and did not create the due value. I think that it is the basis of science and technology, industry and humanity in China limited its development.

What are some of the misconceptions about China’s rare earth industry?

To describe that China develop rare earth industry is a carefully planned scheme, to make it a political issue and to buzz that China rare earth supply cuts threatened USA defense security.

I am personally against voices of parochial nationalism and extreme patriotism in China. The world should eliminate the politicalized trend on rare earth issue.

What possibilities do you see unfolding in rare earth research over the next decade?

A great progress in application especially on new energy industries will be promoted by the developed and developing countries. For research, a diversity of advanced rare earth materials will be developed and applied in green technologies.

What is the most exciting thing going on in rare earths today?

The most exciting thing is the application of rare earths will be highly needed in new energy technology, such as EV or HEV, wind powder and an effort to establish a multi-supply system worldwide to avoid China “monopoly” on rare earth supply—but some China rare earth enterprises may not be that happy.

Are you surprised by the worldwide attention that the rare earths have received over the last year?

In fact, I am not that surprised like Ms. Judith [Judith Chegwidden of Roskill, who spoke at the recent conference in Hong Kong], because I know the importance of rare earths to modern hi-tech industry. All of us are benefitting from techniques with rare earths. The problem is that how can our human beings live together in peace.

What advice would you offer to a young engineer or scientist who is interested in the rare earths?

Never give up study, keep curiosity and progressive spirit, and respect the existence value of others.

Thank You, Dr. Chen Zhanheng!