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Rare earths

Latest News

  • China to establish rare earth tracking system

    Tuesday, 17 January 2017

    The northern district of Baotou aims to develop a tracing system for rare earths comprising the whole of Inner Mongolia to improve transparency. curb illegal mining and stop unauthorised trading of the mineral.

  • Northern Rare Earth forecasts 2016 profit plunge

    Tuesday, 17 January 2017

    China's largest rare earths producer expects to announce drastically lower profits for 2016 due to lower prices and weak demand while the value of rare earths traded on the country's first trading platform reached record highs.

  • Price briefing 30 December - 5 January

    Friday, 06 January 2017

    Graphite market weighs up scrapping of export taxes; China rare earth prices stable for January; alumina and bauxite supply reportedly tight in China; Chinese DBM, CCM export value drops; Chinese TiO2 producers hike prices again.

  • China rare earth prices stable for January; exports increase

    Thursday, 05 January 2017

    According to prices announced by China Norther Rare Earth Hi-Tech Group, January prices for rare earths will remain stable compared with December values. Exports of the mineral also showed an uptick at the end of 2016, according to Chinese customs data.

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Pricing News

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Features

  • 2016 Year in Review

    Thursday, 15 December 2016

    A round up of the year's main events in major global industrial minerals markets such as lithium, agriminerals, rare earths and titanium dioxide.

  • China’s rare earths policies struggle to stem supply

    Thursday, 27 October 2016

    The cancellation of export quotas and taxes on Chinese rare earths export last year spurred the introduction of a raft of new measures designed to control output and boost value. Albert Li, IM Analyst, discusses the progress of these plans.

  • No respite for rare earths

    Thursday, 27 October 2016

    A commodities market rebound in 2016 left the rare earths sector largely untouched, but some companies are still determined to bring new mines online, writes IM Correspondent, Rose Pengelly.

  • Phosphogypsum: Another Russian rare earths pipe dream?

    Monday, 22 August 2016

    A plan to recycle waste from fertiliser plants to produce pure rare earths and gypsum is the latest to come out of Russia’s metallurgical science community, but this project is already facing many of the obstacles that have scuppered previous similar endeavors, Vladislav Vorotnikov, IM Correspondent, finds.

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Market Brief


Rare earths constitute the 15 lanthanide elements in the periodic table plus yttrium, a naturally associated mineral.

Rare earths are relatively abundant in the Earth’s crust, but do not often occur in minable concentrations.

World resources are contained primarily in bastnäsite and monazite. Bastnäsite deposits in China and the US constitute the largest percentage of the world’s rare earth economic resources, while monazite deposits constitute the second largest segment.

Apatite, cheralite, eudialyte, loparite, phosphorites, rare-earth-bearing (ion adsorption) clays, secondary monazite, spent uranium solutions and xenotime make up most of the remaining resources.

Rare earths have a wide range of applications from polishing powders to high-strength magnets, and are critical to environmental technologies such as electric vehicle motors and wind turbines, defence applications, and high-tech products such as smart phones.

The elements can be split into two groups: light rare earths and heavy rare earths, with the former generally occurring in much higher concentrations in the world

The main traded light rare earths elements are: lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium and samarium.

The main traded heavy rare earth elements are: europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium and erbium. Yttrium is usually grouped with the heavy elements.

Supply

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, rare earths production has been increasingly dominated by China, which now accounts for over 95% of global output.

Based in Inner Mongolia, Baotou Steel Rare Earth High-Tech Co. is China’s largest player, producing around 55,000 tpa of light rare earths from its Bayan Obo mine.

Heavy rare earths and yttrium are largely extracted from ionic adsorption clays in Jiangxi and surrounding southern provinces, producing about 36,000 tpa.

However China’s decision to begin limiting exports in the minerals in 2005 has led to a gradual reduction in commercially available rare earth products, and has spurred a frenzy of exploration activity in other parts of the world.

Among those attempting to fill the supply gap left by China, two of the most advanced developers are the US company
Molycorp Inc., which is developing the Mountain Pass mine in California, US, and the Australian firm Lynas Corp. which owns the Mount Weld mine in Western Australia.

Other projects of note that are still at an early stage of development include the Dubbo Zirconia (and rare earths) project in Australia, owned by Alkane Resources Ltd; the Browns Range heavy rare earths project, also in Australia, owned by Northern Minerals Ltd; the Bokan Mountain project in Alaska owned by Ucore Rare Metals Inc.; the Kipawa heavy rare earth project in Canada owned by Matamec Explorations Inc.; and the Norra Karr heavy rare earths project in Sweden, owned by Tasman Metals Ltd.

Global rare earth oxide (REO) production in 2012 was estimated to be about 110,000 tonnes, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).


Markets

Rare earths provide essential properties for a large number of hi-tech industries and are increasingly important in green energy technologies and consumer electronics.

The largest growth sector is expected to be for high-strength permanent magnets, including neodymium-iron-boron (Nd-Fe-B) and samarium cobalt (Sm-Co) magnets.

Nd-Fe-B magnets not only use neodymium but also the heavy rare earth element, dysprosium, and no substitute has been found for either raw material.

High-strength magnets are used in critical environmental and defence technologies including wind turbine motors, missiles, guidance systems as well as disk drives for computers and portable electronics.

The most common and lowest value rare earth element, cerium, is commonly used in polishing powders for high-value glass such as that used in televisions and computer screens.

The phosphorescent properties of rare earths – including yttrium, europium and lanthanum – are also central to plasma television and computer technology. They are also used in energy-saving light bulbs and x-rays.

Other applications are in metal alloys, ceramics, glass, lasers and fibre optics.

A price spike in 2011 caused by panic-buying in response to concerns over supply security of the minerals has led to many rare earth consumers using substitute raw materials, which has dented the rare earths market.

Prices fell more than 50% in 2012, and lacklustre demand caused major producers like Baotou Steel Rare Earth Hi-Tech to register huge falls in profits compared with 2011.

Due to the volumes used in hi-tech industries, Japan is the world’s largest importer of the materials, followed by the EU and the US.