Rare earths are a relatively abundant group of 17 elements composed of scandium, yttrium, and the lanthanides. The elemental forms of rare earths are iron grey to silvery lustrous metals that are typically soft, malleable, and ductile and usually reactive, especially at elevated temperatures or when finely divided.
Rare earths metals are used to manufacture everything from rechargeable batteries for electric or hybrid vehicles, advanced ceramics, wind turbines, computers and other consumer electronics, lighting, lasers, fibre optics, catalysts in oil refineries, wind turbines. The elements are also important to national governments because they are essential in military equipment such as jet engines, missile guidance systems, missile defence systems, and satellites.
Despite the name, rare earths are not particularly rare. However, it is very rare to find the minerals in concentrations high enough to make a commercial case for their extraction. This is because separating the rare earths from the host material and subsequent treatment is complicated, expensive and requires processes that can result in environmental challenges.
For the last couple of decades China has had control over the rare earth market. It is estimated that China is home to 85% of the world’s capacity to process rare earth ore into material manufacturers can use. Even California’s Mountain Pass mine, which is the only operating U.S. earths facility ships its concentrate to China for processing.
Western governments have identified the dependency on the Chinese for these critical materials as a major concern. Accordingly, the U.S. and other Western governments have prioritized accessing and developing other sources through programs such as the Energy Resources Governance Initiative.
Results to Date
Results to be released in the 43-101 report - expected to be completed in March 2021