Rare-earth elements (REEs) are some of the most valuable resources on Earth. Even though these are elements that occur naturally, they are rarely found in quantities large enough to mine. Therefore, when they are uncovered in suitable quanitites, they are immediately valuable. There are seventeen rare earth elements in total, all of which are chemically metallic. Some of the most common examples of rare-earth elements include cerium, yttrium, and lanthanum. Even though they bear similarities to industrial metals, such as tin, lead, and zinc, rare-earth elements are not the same.
There is considerable confusion surrounding "rare-earth elements" and a handful of similar terms. The correct blanket term is "rare-earth elements," however, these elements sometimes occur in sub-forms whose correct chemical classifications would be "rare-earth metals" or "rare-earth oxides." For that reason, these three terms are often used interchangeably. However, rare-earth metals are not the same as "rare metals" such as cobalt and niobium. Also inaccurate is the related term "rare earths," a too-broad grouping which includes many elements that are not considered rare-earth elements/metals.
There are plenty of applications for rare earth metals, but the vast majority of them fall under the category of advanced technology. As technology continues to become more important, these rare earth metals will only become more valuable. For example, there are a lot of rare earth metals that are used in smartphones. It is difficult to manufacture a smart device without a rare earth metal.
These metals can also be used to construct hard drives for computers. As computers become more powerful, metals will become more important. Therefore, the value of these rare earth metals is projected to rise in the future.
Finally, these metals can also play a critical role in the development of batteries. As electric cars become more popular in the future, rare earth metals will become more important to the manufacturing process of automobiles.
Rare earth metals tend to be concentrated in a single location. A significant chunk of the Earth's rare earth metals is located in China. China has approximately 44 million metric tons of rare earth metals, and they are in the process of being extracted.
Vietnam and Brazil also have relatively large quantities of rare earth metals. Each of these countries has approximately half the tonnage of rare earth metals when compared to China. These countries are still developing, and they are in the process of extracting these natural resources.
There are a few other countries that also have relatively large supplies of rare earth metals. Russia, India, and Australia each have a few metric tons of rare earth metals. The United States also has approximately 1.5 metric tons of rare earth metals.
Given that China has the largest supply of rare earth elements, it should come as no surprise that it is also home to the largest mine. The largest rare earth element mine in the world is located in Inner Mongolia, a part of China. It is called the Bayan Obo mine, and it is the biggest producer of rare earth elements in the world. There are lots of industries that rely on the rare earth metals that come out of this mine.
2021 Production (tons)
2022 Production (tons)
With 44 million in reserves, China is leading the world in the amount of rare earth it currently has. China is also the country that mines the most rare earth in a year.