Japanese trading house Sumitomo signed a groundbreaking deal with Kazakhstan’s state nuclear company, Kazatomprom, to set up a refinery plant at the company’s nuclear facility to extract uranium ore – one of the sources of green metals integral to environmental technology. Kazakhstan’s ore is believed to be rich with dysprosium and neodymium, two of the world’s most important green metals, used in everything from hybrid motors to low-energy light bulbs.

Sumitomo’s investment is one of the latest moves by Japan to catch up with China, which has so far dominated the rush for rare earth materials. In September, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry signed contracts with Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia to search for natural resources, while Toyota Tsusho, the trading arm of the motor company, is investing $405.6m in Mongolia and Indonesia for rare metal mining.

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Ginanne Brownell