About Rare Earth
Rare Earth Elements
Rare earth elements (REE) refer to the fifteen lanthanides (atomic numbers 57 to 71) plus scandium (21) and yttrium (39). They are typically classified into two groups, light (La – Sm) (LREE) and heavy (Eu – Lu plus Y) (HREE), although sometimes there is a medium group (Sm – Gd).
Because the elements are chemically similar and are found in a variety of minerals, the ability to economically mine, process and recover the elements is rare. For the past 25 years China has dominated the mining and processing of REEs.*
Rare Earth elements in magnets
Mineralogy is a key driver in determining the economics of rare earth deposits. REEs are found in carbonates (Bastnaesite, LREE), oxides (Loparite and Fergusonite, both LREE and HREE), phosphates (Monazite/Apatite, LREE; Xenotime, HREE) and complex silicates (Eudialyte, Allanite, Britholite, both LREE and HREE).*
REE materials can be sold as mineral concentrates from the mine, mixed chemical concentrates (chlorides/carbonates), mixed oxides (didymium – Nd/Pr), separated oxides (in a range of purity levels), mischmetal, metal (in a range of purity levels), alloys and powders.*
Rare earth oxides (REOs) with typically 99.9 % purity are the most commonly reported product for trade.
Rare earth element production and supply forecast
World production of total REOs in 2013 is estimated at approximately 119 000 t with China dominating global rare earth mining and upstream processing. Approximately 90 % of REEs are sourced (mined) in China; however, it is estimated that China produces approximately 90 % of the LREEs and approximately 99 % of the HREEs due to its domination in mid-stream processing (metals/alloys/powders). Light rare earth production outside of China is starting to increase, notably Lynas Corp with production and processing in Australia and Malaysia respectively.*
Historically, China imposed restrictive export quotas on REEs to ensure domestic demand was met internally and to facilitate the shift of downstream production into China. Significant quota reductions sent prices to unprecedented highs in 2011 and cast a light on the risk of highly concentrated trade in the critical raw materials industry.
Rare earth element consumption and demand forecast
Global demand for REE’s in 2013 was estimated at approximately 121 000 t. Global demand was negatively impacted by the unprecedented high prices in 2011. Since then, demand growth has tempered as the Chinese economy has softened. The majority of REE’s are currently consumed by the glass and magnet industries (each segment comprises 23 % of total consumption), followed by catalysts and alloys (19 % and 17 %, respectively).*
Japan and the USA are the key importers of rare earths, each representing approximately 37 % of Chinese exports Year to date May 2014. China is dominant in midstream processing (purification, metal and alloy processing, etc.), which has been developed and optimized over the past 35 years. Global rare earth production is forecast to be 163 000 tonnes in 2020, up from 119 000 t in 2013 (a seven year compound annual growth rate of 4.6 %).*
* Technical Report NI 43-101, 2015.
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