In 2015, most rare earth prices were hit hard. Prices for commonly oversupplied rare earths — such as cerium and lanthanum — were on the downtrend, but the more in-demand phosphor and magnet rare earths were hit hard as well.
That meant a challenging year for rare earth juniors, and for companies targeting rare earth production outside of China in general. Molycorp (OTCMKTS:MCPIQ), once North America’s only producing rare earths miner, filed for bankruptcy protection last summer and shuttered its Mountain Pass operations later in the year. Meanwhile, China remains the world’s top rare earth producing country, responsible for the vast majority of production worldwide.
Still China isn’t the only country producing rare earth elements (REEs) and given the important role of the metals in all aspects of modern technology, it’s worth taking a look at who else is on the list of top producers.
These are the top six rare earth-producing countries based on rare earth production data from 2015, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS):
Mine Production: 105,000 tons
China dominates rare earth mineral production to such a degree that its export practices were recently challenged by the US European Union and Japan, resulting in a WTO ruling against the country’s rare earth export quotas in 2014.
In the past, China has only exported 31,000 tons of its rare earth production. While the country claimed that the limitation was aimed at environmental protection, the WTO ruled that it represented an unfair export restriction that allowed China to control global rare earth prices.
Still, China continues to stockpile the minerals, and the country is expected to continue to be the world’s largest holder of rare earths well into the future. While China was forced to scrap its rare earth export quotas last year, the country kept internal production quotas, revamped its domestic production tax and axed rare earth export tariffs, which helped to bring rare earth prices down.
Looking ahead, China is expected to put an annual limit on its rare earth production beginning in 2020. As the world’s largest supplier of rare earth, this will no doubt significantly impact the industry.
Mine Production: 10,000 tons
Australia boosted its rare earth production to a whopping 10,000 tons last year, up from just 8,000 tons in 2014. The country is sitting on the world’s third-largest known rare earth reserves. Australian rare earth mining has only been underway since 2007, according to Geoscience Australia, and the country is poised to increase output going forward.
Australia based Lynas Corporation (ASX:LYC) is now the only operating rare earth miner outside of China. It operates the Mt Weld mine and concentration plant in Australia, as well as a rare earth refining and processing plant in Malaysia.
3. United States
Mine Production: 4,100 tons
While US rare earth production has increased over the past decade, its output is still dwarfed by China’s. As mentioned above, Molycorp’s Mountain Pass mine was the only producing rare earth mine in the country, and that was put on care and maintenance in 2015 after the company filed for bankruptcy protection. Overall, the US saw its rare earth production drop from 5,400 tons in 2014 to 4,100 tons in 2015.
Rare Earth Market Outlook 2016
A look at rare earths in 2015 and the rare earth market outlook for 2016.
Mine Production: 2,500 tons
In 2013, Reuters reported a $1 billion investment into rare earth production. Russia’s Rostec stated at the time that it expected to be able to meet Russian rare earth demand by 2017, and increased production was expected to start by 2015. However, Russian rare earth production stayed flat in 2015 at 2,500 tons.
Russian companies are also targeting new extraction techniques to recover rare earths from uranium ore, according to a report from Russia Beyond the Headlines. Since rare earth elements are difficult to mine and extract from mined material, new processing techniques can have a profound impact on production.
Mine Production: 1,100 tons
Thailand raised production of rare earth minerals by 300 tons in 2014 to 1,100 tons 2015. Rare earth reserves in the country are not currently known, but the country remains a significant player in the second-tier group of rare earth-producing countries that below China.
Mine Production: 200 tons
Malaysia is home to the world’s largest rare earth refinery, Lynas Corporation’s Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP). As mentioned above, the LAMP facility handles refining duties for Lynas’s mines in Australia. Despite political issues that delayed the plant’s opening in 2013, the LAMP facility has helped Malaysia become an important player in the world of rare earth minerals.
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This article was originally published on the Investing News Network on May 2, 2016.