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Index / Mining & Minerals - Evaluations / Rare Earth Exploration, Mining, Processing, Uses

4/14/2017 by mdc
Ian Coles and Mayer Brown report that vital for so many modern technologies, rare earths remain among the most sought-after minerals on the planet. It was recently suggested at the AASS that the sea beds should be mined for them.

Currently, global demand is met largely by China. However, the fact that Rainbow Rare Earths, which owns a project in Burundi, successfully listed on the London Stock Exchange at the end of January has prompted speculation that China dominance may finally be challenged. Such talk may be premature but it does suggest that now is a good time to assess the current state of play in the market.

China clearly continues to dominate global production. The latest available statistics (for 2015, from the U.S. Geological Survey) give its annual production as slightly more than 100,000 tons. Australia, second in the list, trails with 10,000 tons. Only three other countries produce more that 1,000 tons a year (the U.S., Russia and Thailand with 4,100 tons, 2,500 tons and 1,100 tons, respectively). Africa currently figures nowhere.

Despite China dominance of production, the same is not true of deposits. It is estimated that China has no more than 30% of global deposits. The problem lies in the cost of bringing new deposits into production and the ability of one country with such a dominant position to flood the market and bring down prices, hitting the viability of new projects.

A rise in protectionism suggests new strategic imperatives for countries such as the U.S. and Russia to recommence or increase domestic production. It is widely acknowledged that, outside North America and Australia, southern and eastern Africa offer the greatest potential for rare earth production, especially in South Africa, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. Kenya, Burundi, Zambia and Namibia are also mentioned.

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