Rare Earth

rare earth metals

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 2021, jumping to 280,000 metric tons (MT) worldwide — that’s up significantly from 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 2021, as per the latest data from US Geological Survey.

1. China

Mine production: 168,000 MT

As mentioned, China has dominated rare earths production for a number of years. In 2021, its domestic output of 168,000 MT was up from 140,000 MT the previous year.

Chinese producers must adhere to a quota system for rare earths production. The quota for rare earth smelting and separation in 2021 was set at 162,000 MT (up from 135,000 MT in 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’s rare 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: 43,000 MT

The US produced 43,000 MT of rare earths in 2021, up from 39,000 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 (NYSE:MP).

The US is a major importer of rare earth materials, with demand for compounds and metals worth US$160 million in 2021; that’s up from US$109 million in 2020. 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: 26,000 MT

Myanmar mined 26,000 MT of rare earths in 2021, down from 31,000 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. Myanmar provides 60 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 so far trade disruptions have been minimal.

4. Australia

Mine production: 22,000 MT

Rare earths production in Australia has been rising steadily for the last few years. However, in 2021, its output rose slightly to 22,000 MT from 21,000 MT in 2020.

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 in 2019 announced plans to boost production to 10,500 MT per year of neodymium-praseodymium products by 2025.

Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU) opened Australia’s first heavy rare earths mine in 2018. Its main products are terbium and dysprosium, the latter of which is used in technology such as permanent magnets.

5. Thailand

Mine production: 8,000 MT

Thailand’s rare earths production more than doubled to 8,000 MT in 2021, up from 3,600 MT in 2020. Its rare earths reserves are not currently known, but the country remains a top 10 producer of rare earth metals outside of China.

6. Madagascar

Mine production: 3,200 MT

Madagascar recorded rare earths extraction of 3,200 MT in 2021, up from 2,800 MT the year before. It holds the Tantalus rare earth project, which is said to contain 562,000 MT of rare earth oxides.

7. India

Mine production: 2,900 MT

India’s 2021 production in India was just 2,900 MT, unchanged from the previous year, representing about 1 percent of global rare earth supplies. India’s rare earths production industry is far below its potential, considering the Asian nation holds almost 35 percent of the world’s total beach sand mineral deposits, which are significant sources of rare earths.

8. Russia

Mine production: 2,700 MT

Russia produced 2,700 MT of rare earths in 2021, the same level as the previous three years. Prior to the country’s aggressive war against Ukraine, the Russian government was allegedly “unhappy” with its supply of rare earths. Russia has reportedly reduced mining taxes and offered discounted loans to investors in nearly a dozen projects intended to increase the nation’s share of global rare earths production from the current 1.3 percent to 10 percent by 2030. In terms of global rare earths reserves, Russia is tied for third with Brazil.

The Russia-Ukraine war has raised concerns over disruptions to the US-Europe rare earth supply chain.

9. Brazil

Mine production: 500 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, with only 500 MT in 2021.

10. Vietnam

Mine production: 400 MT

Vietnam’s rare earths production fell from 700 MT in 2020 to 400 MT in 2021. 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, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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