Rare Earths Elements: Where in the World Are They?
Rare earth elements are a group of metals that are critical ingredients for a greener economy, and the location of the reserves for mining are increasingly important and valuable.
This infographic features data from the United States Geological Society (USGS) which reveals the countries with the largest known reserves of rare earth elements (REEs).
What are Rare Earth Metals?
REEs, also called rare earth metals or rare earth oxides, or lanthanides, are a set of 17 silvery-white soft heavy metals.
The 17 rare earth elements are: lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), neodymium (Nd), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), terbium (Tb), dysprosium (Dy), holmium (Ho), erbium (Er), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), lutetium (Lu), scandium (Sc), and yttrium (Y).
Scandium and yttrium are not part of the lanthanide family, but end users include them because they occur in the same mineral deposits as the lanthanides and have similar chemical properties.
The term “rare earth” is a misnomer as rare earth metals are actually abundant in the Earth’s crust. However, they are rarely found in large, concentrated deposits on their own, but rather among other elements instead.
Rare Earth Elements, How Do They Work?
Most rare earth elements find their uses as catalysts and magnets in traditional and low-carbon technologies. Other important uses of rare earth elements are in the production of special metal alloys, glass, and high-performance electronics.
Alloys of neodymium (Nd) and samarium (Sm) can be used to create strong magnets that withstand high temperatures, making them ideal for a wide variety of mission critical electronics and defense applications.
|End-use||% of 2019 Rare Earth Demand|
|Glass Polishing Powder and Additives||13%|
|Metallurgy and Alloys||8%|
|Ceramics, Pigments and Glazes||5%|
The strongest known magnet is an alloy of neodymium with iron and boron. Adding other REEs such as dysprosium and praseodymium can change the performance and properties of magnets.
Hybrid and electric vehicle engines, generators in wind turbines, hard disks, portable electronics and cell phones require these magnets and elements. This role in technology makes their mining and refinement a point of concern for many nations.
For example, one megawatt of wind energy capacity requires 171 kg of rare earths, a single U.S. F-35 fighter jet requires about 427 kg of rare earths, and a Virginia-class nuclear submarine uses nearly 4.2 tonnes.
Global Reserves of Rare Earth Minerals
China tops the list for mine production and reserves of rare earth elements, with 44 million tons in reserves and 140,000 tons of annual mine production.
While Vietnam and Brazil have the second and third most reserves of rare earth metals with 22 million tons in reserves and 21 million tons, respectively, their mine production is among the lowest of all the countries at only 1,000 tons per year each.
|Country||Mine Production 2020||Reserves||% of Total Reserves|
While the United States has 1.5 million tons in reserves, it is largely dependent on imports from China for refined rare earths.
Ensuring a Global Supply
In the rare earth industry, China’s dominance has been no accident. Years of research and industrial policy helped the nation develop a superior position in the market, and now the country has the ability to control production and the global availability of these valuable metals.
This tight control of the supply of these important metals has the world searching for their own supplies. With the start of mining operations in other countries, China’s share of global production has fallen from 92% in 2010 to 58%< in 2020. However, China has a strong foothold in the supply chain and produced 85% of the world’s refined rare earths in 2020.
China awards production quotas to only six state-run companies:
- China Minmetals Rare Earth Co
- Chinalco Rare Earth & Metals Co
- Guangdong Rising Nonferrous
- China Northern Rare Earth Group
- China Southern Rare Earth Group
- Xiamen Tungsten
As the demand for REEs increases, the world will need tap these reserves. This graphic could provide clues as to the next source of rare earth elements.
Visualizing Mining’s Footprint in British Columbia
Mining represents 7% of British Columbia’s GDP despite only accounting for 0.04% of the land use.
Visualizing Mining’s Footprint in British Columbia
British Columbia is considered a global leader in the development of socially and environmentally responsible resources.
An estimated 54% of the province’s total land is protected, making it one of the world’s greenest mining hubs.
This graphic by the B.C. Regional Mining Alliance (BCRMA) details mining’s footprint in the province.
A Tier 1 Jurisdiction for Mining
British Columbia covers almost 95 million hectares (234 million acres), more than any European country except Russia, and more than any U.S. state except Alaska.
As the largest mining province in Canada, BC registered $18 billion in revenue from the industry in 2022.
British Columbia stands as Canada’s sole producer of molybdenum, which finds applications in metallurgy and chemistry. Additionally, B.C. is the country’s leader producer of copper and steelmaking coal, besides gold and silver.
At the heart of British Columbia’s mining industry lies the Golden Triangle, one of the hottest mineral exploration districts in the world.
More than 150 mines have operated in the area since prospectors first arrived at the end of the 19th century. The region alone is endowed with minerals worth more than $800 billion.
How Green is B.C. Mining
Mining represents 7% of the province’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), despite only accounting for 0.04% of the land use. In comparison, farmland demands 3% of the land, bringing $2.1 billion (0.8%) per year.
|Land Use in B.C.||Revenue (2022, CAD $)|
|Oil & Gas||0.4%||$9.5 billion|
Mining operations are also supported by a stable, transparent, and effective policy environment. The province ranked as the world’s least risky for mining in 2017 and 2018.
In addition, mineral exploration has received ample support from local Indigenous communities. Today, mining accounts for over two-thirds of all indigenous people employed in the extractives sector.
According to the International Energy Agency, up to six times more minerals and metals will be needed by 2040 to accelerate the energy transition.
In this scenario, British Columbia is well positioned to support the transition to a low-carbon future and make a significant contribution to climate action.
The BCRMA is a strategic partnership between indigenous groups, industry, and government representatives that aims to promote B.C.’s mining opportunities internationally.
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