China is the largest country for rare earth metal production by far, but what are the other top nations? Find out here.
Rare earth metal production was on the rise again in 2020, jumping to 240,000 metric tons (MT) worldwide — that’s up from 220,000 MT in 2019 and 190,000 MT in 2018.
Demand for the metals is increasing as renewable energy becomes more important across the globe. Rare earths like neodymium and praseodymium, which are important in clean energy applications and high-tech industries, are in the spotlight, particularly as electric vehicles and hybrid cars gain popularity.
Other factors, like the ongoing tensions between the US and China, are also putting the spotlight on rare earths. Since China is the world’s largest producer of the materials by far, the fraught relationship between the countries is directing attention to supply chain issues in the rare earths industry.
With that in mind, it’s worth being aware of rare earth metal production numbers. Here’s a look at the 10 countries that mined the most rare earths in 2020, as per the latest data from US Geological Survey.
Mine production: 140,000 MT
As mentioned, China has dominated rare earths production for a number of years. In 2020, its domestic output of 140,000 MT was up from 132,000 MT the previous year.
Chinese producers must adhere to a quota system for rare earths production. The half-year quota for rare earth mining in 2021 is set at 84,000 tonnes (up 27.2 percent from the previous year), while the quota for smelting and separation is 81,000 tonnes (up 27.6 percent from the previous year). Interestingly, this system led China to become the world’s top importer of rare earths in 2018.
The quota system is a response to China’s longstanding problems with illegal rare earths mining. Over the last decade, the country has taken steps to clean up its act, including shutting illegal or environmentally non-compliant rare earth mines, and limiting production and rare earth exports.
Currently, six state-owned miners are in charge of China’srare earth industry, in theory allowing China to keep a strong handle on production. However, illegal rare earth extraction remains a challenge, and the Chinese government continues to take steps to curb this activity.
2. United States
Mine production: 38,000 MT
The US produced 38,000 MT of rare earths in 2020, up from 28,000 MT the previous year.
Rare earths supply in the US currently comes only from the Mountain Pass mine in California, which went back into production in Q1 2018 after being put on care and maintenance in Q4 2015. It was run by Molycorp before it went bankrupt and then was bought by MP Mine Operation, now MP Materials.
The US is a major importer of rare earth materials, with demand for compounds and metals worth US$110 million in 2020; that’s down from US$160 million in 2019. The country has classified rare earths as critical minerals, a distinction that has come to the fore due to trade issues between the US and China.
3. Myanmar (also known as Burma)
Mine production: 30,000 MT
Myanmar mined 30,000 MT of rare earths in 2020, up from 22,000 MT the previous year.
Little information is available about the country’s rare earth mineral deposits and mining projects, but the nation does have a close relationship with China — in 2020, Myanmar provided 50 percent of China’s medium to heavy rare earths feedstock. Myanmar’s military coup in 2021 has raised concerns that those rare earths imports may be cut off, but as of early March there had been no trade disruptions.
Mine production: 17,000 MT
Rare earths production in Australia has been rising steadily for the last few years. However, in 2020, its output dropped to 17,000 MT from 20,000 MT in 2019.
The country holds the sixth largest-known rare earths reserves in the world, and is poised to increase its output. Australia-based Lynas (ASX:LYC,OTC Pink:LYSCF) operates the Mount Weld mine and concentration plant in the country, and it recently announced plans to boost production to 10,500 tonnes per year of neodymium-praseodymium products by 2025.
Mine production: 8,000 MT
Madagascar recorded rare earths extraction of 8,000 MT in 2020, double that of the year before. It holds the Tantalus rare earth project, which is said to contain 562,000 tonnes of rare earth oxides.
Mine production: 3,000 MT
In the fall of 2014, Indian Rare Earths and Toyota Tsusho Exploration entered into an agreement regarding the exploration and production of rare earths via deep-sea mining.
Despite this deal, India’s rare earths production industry is far below its potential. The country holds almost 35 percent of the world’s total beach sand mineral deposits, which are significant sources of rare earths, but 2020 production in India was just 3,000 MT, up only 100 MT from the previous year.
Mine production: 2,700 MT
Russia produced 2,700 MT of rare earths in 2020, the same level as the previous two years. The country’s government is allegedly “unhappy” with its supply of rare earths. Russia is reportedly reducing mining taxes and offering discounted loans to investors in 11 projects intended to increase the nation’s share of global rare earths production from the current 1.3 percent to 10 percent by 2030.
Mine production: 2,000 MT
Thailand’s rare earths production increased to 2,000 MT in 2020, up from 1,900 MT in 2019 and 1,000 MT in 2018. Its rare earths reserves are not currently known, but the country remains a top 10 producer of rare earth metals outside of China.
Mine production: 1,000 MT
Vietnam’s rare earths production fell from 1,300 MT in 2019 to 1,000 MT in 2020. Its output for the year was on par with rare earth production in Brazil, meaning the two are actually tied for ninth place.
The country reportedly hosts several rare earth materials deposits with concentrations against its northwestern border with China and along its eastern coastline. Vietnam is interested in building its clean energy capacity, including solar panels, and is said to be looking to produce more rare earths for its supply chain for that reason.
Mine production: 1,000 MT
Back in 2012, a US$8.4 billion rare earths deposit was discovered in Brazil. So far, it seems little energy has been put into the discovery — although in 2020 rare earth tonnes mined in the country increased a little, rising from 710 MT in 2019 to 1,000 MT in 2020.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.