Lack of production outside China continues to be an issue in the space, and the US is just one major country that does not produce rare earths. It has not done so since Molycorp, once North America’s only producer of rare earths, filed for bankruptcy in 2015.
But while the US has missed out on rare earths production for the last two years, other countries have not. Seven countries aside from China produced rare earths last year, according to the most recent data from the US Geological Survey, and many believe demand for the metals is set to rise. In fact, some predict that the market will be valued at $20 billion by 2024.
With that in mind, it’s worth being aware of which countries produce the most rare earths. Here’s a look at the eight countries that mined the most rare earths in 2017, as per the US Geological Survey.
Mine production: 105,000 MT
China has dominated rare earths production for a number of years. In 2017, its output of 105,000 MT was unchanged from the previous year. According to the US Geological Survey, “[t]hrough September 2017, China had exported 39,800 tones of rare-earth materials, a 10% increase compared with exports from the same time period in 2016.”
Though it has a key role in the rare earths space, China has long had problems with illegal rare earths mining. Industrial Minerals reported in January 2017 that the country would have until April to “crack down on illegal mining.” Inspections took place in a number of Chinese provinces, and as a result prices for some rare earths skyrocketed. However, by the end of the year, China had slashed prices and suspended operations in response to low demand.
China is expected to put an annual limit on its rare earths production beginning in 2020. Given that the country is the world’s largest supplier of rare earths, that will no doubt significantly impact the industry.
Mine production: 20,000 MT
Rare earths production in Australia has been rising steadily for the last few years. In 2017, its output came in at 20,000 MT compared to 15,000 MT in 2015.
The country holds the sixth-largest known rare earths reserves in the world, but rare earths have only been mined in the country since 2007, says Geoscience Australia. The country is poised to increase its output, and mineral concentrates from the country are now used to create compounds in Malaysia.
Australia-based Lynas (ASX:LYC) is currently operating the Mount Weld mine and concentration plant in the country, and Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU) opened Australia’s first heavy rare earths mine last year.
Rare Earth Market Outlook 2016
A look at rare earths in 2015 and the rare earth market outlook for 2016.
Mine production: 3,000 MT
Russia’s rare earths production also increased slightly in 2017, bolstered by the country’s $1-billion investment into production a few years ago. In 2017, Russia’s rare earths output was 3,000 MT, up from 2,800 MT the year prior.
Despite that bump in production, the Russian government is allegedly “unhappy” with its supply of rare earths. 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: 2,000 MT
Back in 2012, an $8.4-billion rare earths deposit was discovered in Brazil. So far, it seems little has come of the discovery — last year, rare earths production in the country decreased a little, sinking from 2,200 MT in 2016 to 2,000 MT in 2017.
Mine production: 1,600 MT
Thailand’s rare earths production remained unchanged at 1,600 MT in 2017. Its rare earths reserves are not currently known, but the country remains a fairly significant producer outside of China.
Mine production: 1,500 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 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 2017 rare earths production in India was 1,500 MT, unchanged from the previous year.
Mine production: 300 MT
Malaysia’s production of rare earths remained unchanged from the previous year.
The country is home to one of the world’s largest rare earths refineries, the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP). The LAMP facility handles refining duties for Lynas’ mines in Australia. The company sells to buyers in Japan, Europe, China and North America. Although political issues delayed the plant’s opening in 2013, the facility has helped Malaysia become an important player in the rare earths space.
Mine production: 100 MT
Vietnam decreased its rare earths production from 220 MT in 2016 to 100 MT in 2017. Information on rare earths mining in Vietnam is scarce.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Amanda Kay, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.