Rare earths are very special metals. Without them, our everyday lives would look completely different, because from cell phones to electric cars, many things we take for granted would not exist.
Rare earths are not as rare as the name suggests, and there is no reason to fear a shortage in the foreseeable future. Actually, rare earth metals are found all over the world. Mostly, however, the deposits amount to only small quantities.
Although only small quantities of these very special metals are needed to manufacture the many high-tech products, economically viable mining is only worthwhile in a few places in the world.
China – currently the most important production country
With a market share of almost 90 percent, China is the most important producing country of rare earths. According to official estimates, however, the country has only about one-third of the world’s resources.
Other notable stocks also exist in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Russia, India, Vietnam, Malaysia and Sweden. The largest known deposit of rare earths to date is in Greenland, and rare earths can even be found in Germany. But in most cases the deposits are too small to make commercial mining worthwhile.
The fact that China is still the largest mining country for rare earths, although there are far greater resources worldwide, is due to the fact that rare earths can still be obtained quite cheaply from China and many countries do not engage in excessive and environmentally harmful mining to the same extent as the Asian country.
The largest mines for mining rare earths
The largest known rare earth deposits in China are located in the Bayan Obo mine. It is China’s crown jewel in rare earth mining, so to speak.
The Bayan Obo mine is located in Inner Mongolia, which is part of the People’s Republic of China as an autonomous region. The mine has existed since 1927 and was used for iron ore mining at that time.
In the past 30 years, the mining area of the Bayan-Obo mine has more than doubled. The mine consists of two open pit mines. According to various market studies, it should be possible to mine around 59000 tons of rare earth annually in the Bayan Obo mine alone.
However, the Bayan Obo mine is not the only large mine in China. The world’s second largest rare earth mine is also located in the People’s Republic of China. The Maoniuping mine is located in Sichuan and is estimated to have a mining capacity of around 25000 tons per year.
But there are mines with similar capacities in other parts of the world. These include, for example, the Mountain Pass mine in the USA or the Mount Weld mine in Australia.
In recent years, Western countries, led by the U.S., have been trying to break away somewhat from import dependence on China and increase their rare earth mining capacity.