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 in 2018, jumping to 170,000 metric tons (MT) worldwide from 132,000 MT the previous year.
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 trade war 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, tensions between the countries are directing attention to rare earths supply chain issues.
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 2018, as per the latest data from US Geological Survey.
Mine production: 120,000 MT
As mentioned, China has dominated rare earths production for a number of years. In 2018, its domestic output of 120,000 MT was up from 105,000 MT the previous year.
Producers in the country must adhere to a quota system for rare earths production. The full-year quota for mining in 2019 is set at 120,000 tonnes, while the quota for smelting and separation is 115,000 tonnes. 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 exports.
Currently, six state-owned miners are in charge of the rare earths mining industry, in theory allowing China to keep a strong handle on production. However, illegal extraction remains a challenge and the Chinese government continues to take steps to curb this activity.
Mine production: 20,000 MT
Rare earths production in Australia has been rising steadily for the last few years. In 2018, its output came in at 20,000 MT compared to 19,000 MT in 2017.
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) is operating 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.
3. United States
Mine production: 15,000 MT
The US produced 15,000 MT of rare earths in 2018, up from no production 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.
The US is a major importer of rare earth materials, with demand for compounds and metals worth US$160 million in 2018; that’s up from US$137 million in 2017. The country has classified rare earths as critical minerals, a distinction that has come to the fore due to the trade war between the US and China.
Mine production: 5,000 MT
Myanmar mined 5,000 MT of rare earths in 2018; the US Geological Survey records no extraction in 2017.
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 2018, Myanmar provided 50 percent of China’s medium to heavy rare earths feedstock. That trend seems unlikely to continue in 2019, however, as China has now banned imports from the country, reportedly in an effort to limit smuggling.
Mine production: 2,600 MT
Russia produced 2,600 MT of rare earths in 2018, flat from 2017. The country’s government is allegedly “unhappy” with its supply of rare earths, and the companies IST Group and Rostec made a US$1 billion investment into production a few years ago. It’s expected that production in Russia will increase over time through the development of pre-existing rare earths fields. The country now accounts for roughly 1 percent of global production.
Mine production: 1,800 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 current 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 2018 rare earths production in India was just 1,800 MT.
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 — last year, rare earth tonnes mined in the country decreased a little, sinking from 1,700 MT in 2017 to 1,000 MT in 2018, the same as both Thailand and Burundi.
Mine production: 1,000 MT
Thailand’s rare earths production sank to 1,000 MT in 2018 from 1,300 MT in 2017. Its rare earths reserves are not currently known, but the country remains a fairly significant producer outside of China.
Mine production: 1,000 MT
Burundi recorded rare earths extraction of 1,000 MT in 2018, up from no production the year before. Rainbow Rare Earths (LSE:RBW) exported its first shipment of rare earth concentrate material from its Gakara mine in the country at the end of 2017. The company says Gakara is one of the highest-grade rare earths projects in the world.
Mine production: 400 MT
Vietnam’s rare earths production doubled from 2017 to 2018 to come in at 400 MT.
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.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Charlotte McLeod, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.