China is the top producer of rare earths and also holds the largest rare earth reserves. Which other countries made the list?
But with supply chain worries rising in the rare earth elements space, it’s worth looking at which countries have the highest reserves. While in many cases the world’s major rare earths-mining countries hold large amounts of reserves, some countries have low rare earths production and high reserves.
Case in point — mines in Vietnam produced only 400 metric tons (MT) of rare earth elements in 2021, but the nation’s reserves are the second highest in the world. It’s possible that countries like this could become bigger players in the space in the future. Under the Biden Administration, the United States is looking to increase its own production to meet domestic requirements.
On that note, here’s an overview of rare earths reserves by country, with a focus on the eight countries whose reserves are over 1 million MT. Data is taken from the US Geological Survey’s 2022 report on rare earths.
Reserves: 44 million MT
Unsurprisingly, China has the highest reserves of rare earth minerals at 44 million MT. The country was also the world’s leading rare earths producer in 2021 by a long shot, putting out 168,000 MT.
Despite its top position, China remains focused on ensuring that its reserves remain elevated. Back in 2012, the Asian nation declared that its rare earths reserves were declining; it then announced in 2016 that it would raise domestic reserves by establishing both commercial and national stockpiles.
The last decade has also seen the country hone in on illegal rare earths mining, taking steps such as shutting illegal or environmentally non-compliant rare earths mines and limiting production and exports. China’s stern measures have cleaned up its supply chain significantly, although it continues to improve regulation and supervision.
China’s dominance in both rare earth elements production and reserves has caused problems in the past. Rare earths prices surged when the country cut exports in 2010, resulting in a rush to secure supply of the minerals elsewhere.
Reserves: 22 million MT
Vietnam’s rare earths reserves stand at 22 million MT. It reportedly hosts several deposits with concentrations against its northwestern border with China and along its eastern coastline. The majority of rare earths in the country can be found in primary ore deposits, with a smaller amount located in coastal placer deposits.
As mentioned, Vietnam’s rare earths production was minuscule in 2021 at 400 MT, a more than 40 percent drop from its 2020 output of 700 MT. However, Vietnam is interested in building its clean energy capacity, and is said to be looking to produce more rare earths for that reason.
3. Brazil and Russia
Reserves: 21 million MT
Brazil and Russia are tied for third largest rare earths reserves globally. Brazil was not a major producer of rare earths in 2021, with production clocking in at just 500 MT. A rare earths deposit worth US$8.4 billion was found in 2012 in the country, although not much has come out of the discovery.
Russia produced 2,700 MT of rare earths in 2021, more than Brazil and Vietnam. The Russian government has plans to invest US$1.5 billion in order to compete with China in the rare earths market. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused some concern over possible disruptions to the rare earths supply chain in the US and Europe.
Reserves: 6.9 million MT
India’s rare earths reserves sit at 6.9 million MT, and it produced 2,900 MT of rare earths in 2021. However, there are reasons to believe the country’s rare earths industry has further potential. India has nearly 35 percent of the world’s beach and sand mineral deposits, which are significant sources of rare earths.
Reserves: 4 million MT
While Australia was the fourth largest rare earths-mining country in 2021 at 22,000 MT of production, it has the fifth largest reserves in the world. Currently, its reserves stand at 4 million MT.
Rare earths have only been mined in Australia since 2007, but extraction is expected to increase moving forward. Lynas Rare Earths (ASX:LYC,OTC Pink:LYSCF) operates the Mount Weld mine and concentration plant in the country; it also runs a rare earths refining and processing facility in Malaysia. The company is considered the world’s largest non-Chinese rare earths supplier.
6. United States
Reserves: 1.8 million MT
While the US reported the second highest output of rare earths in 2021 at 43,000 MT, the country takes the sixth top spot in global rare earths reserves.
Rare earths mining in the US now happens only at California’s Mountain Pass mine. In February 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at reviewing shortcomings in America’s domestic supply chains for rare earths, medical devices, computer chips and other critical resources. The next month, the US Department of Energy announced a US$30 million initiative to research and secure domestic supply chains for rare earths and battery metals such as cobalt and lithium.
Reserves: 1.5 million MT
Although Greenland’s rare earths reserves are near the number held in the US, the island nation hasn’t made much of an effort to bring them into production. The country’s current government ran on a platform that included canceling the island nation’s only (and highly controversial) rare earths-mining project.
What is the global total for rare earths reserves?
Global rare earths reserves amount to 120 million MT. With demand for rare earth minerals ramping up as hype about electric vehicles and other high-tech products continues, it will be interesting to see how the top producers contribute to future supply.
What are rare earth metals?
Rare earths are a basket of 17 naturally occurring elements comprised of 15 elements in the lanthanide series, plus yttrium and scandium. Other than scandium, all rare earths can be divided into “heavy” and “light” categories based on their atomic weight. Heavy rare earths are generally more sought after, but light rare earth elements can of course be important too.
What are the most technologically useful rare earth metals?
Rare earth metals play a significant role in the development of various technologies. They are often used in electronics such as laptops and smartphones. Rare earth oxides such as neodymium and praseodymium are used in magnets, aircraft engines and green technologies, including wind turbines and electric vehicles. Samarium and dysprosium are also used in rare earth magnets. Phosphor rare earths such as europium, terbium and yttrium are used in lighting, as are cerium, lanthanum and gadolinium.
Is lithium a rare earth metal?
Lithium is not a rare earth metal. It is an alkali metal in the same group as sodium, potassium, rubidium and cesium.
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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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