Rare Earths

Global Industry, Markets & Outlook

Now updated and released every 12 months, the Rare Earths Global Industry Markets and Outlook report brings you the very latest data and analysis in this unique commodity.

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China continues to strengthen its dominant position in the rare earths industry. Following the closure of Molycorp’s US Mountain Pass mine in mid-2015, China accounts for roughly 90% of global rare earth production. It also remains the largest exporter and sets prices and availability through a system of state ownership, production quotas and regular mine closures.

Almost all global production of light rare earths is sourced from the Baiyan Obo mine in Inner Mongolia as a by-product of iron ore mining. The poor state of the iron ore industry has led to long periods of closure in recent months, however, rare earths are still produced from considerable stockpiles. Heavy rare earths are produced from ion-adsorption clays in Southern China by large state-owned companies. Despite moves to reduce illegal mining, estimates for 2015 were still as high as 45,000t REO. It may be possible for new non-Chinese projects to enter the supply chain, if developers can produce the right range of rare earths required by the market. But there are several barriers to entry. Potential producers need to raise high levels of investment in order to build large processing facilities, and need to prove complex chemical separation techniques.

The market for rare earths is small and diverse. Less than 130kt REO will be consumed in 2016 across a large number of applications. NdFeB permanent magnets are set to grow strongly with increasing uptake of electric vehicles. Rare earth producers will focus on maximising Nd yields but, even so, Nd prices will rise sharply as supply struggles to keep up with demand. By 2026, many magnet producers could switch to alternative technologies.

Demand is currently highest for lower value ‘light’ rare earth elements, in particular Ce and La for use in fluid catalytic cracking and emissions catalysts, glass polishing powders, NiMH batteries and additives for glass production. Growth is slowing, however, for the ‘heavy’ rare earths Eu and Tb, as their use in phosphor powders has fallen by almost two thirds since 2011 in the move to LED lamps.

In 2016, poorly performing global markets continue to limit demand and exert a downward pressure on most rare earth prices. Against a backdrop of low oil prices, slowing global steel output and an overall slowdown in the Chinese economy, prices for most rare earths have returned to low levels last seen in the mid-2000s. Nd has been one exception, experiencing an upward movement in price during 2016, based on expectations of growth.