Rare Earths – not many producers
There are 17 rare earths, with a variety of uses. But current demand is being driven by a select few rare earths that, when alloyed with iron, form permanent magnets.
These are the strongest form of permanent magnets. They are important in sectors seen to have strong growth potential, such as mobile phones, conventional and electric vehicles and wind turbines.
When first discovered in the late 1700s, rare earths were only available from one village in Sweden. In the first half of the 20th century, they were mainly sourced from India and Brazil. South Africa was dominant in the 1950s and then the United States from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Now, over 90% of rare earths are produced by China. In the last decade, China has shown its willingness to strengthen its control over the market through various export and other restrictions. The United States regards magnetic rare earths as “critical materials”.
Australia has one rare-earth producer: Lynas Corporation at Mount Weld in Western Australia.
But two important projects are-on-the-drawing-board: Nolans Bore, northwest of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, and Browns Range, further northwest across the border in Western Australia. Both are rich in rare earths used in permanent magnets (neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium).
With a capital cost of A$680 million, Nolans Bore will entail the production and further processing of a concentrate, resulting in rare-earth intermediate products. These will be separated overseas into their individual rare-earth components; in this context, the proponent (Arafura Resources) is considering a joint venture with a South Korean company.
Browns Range will be simpler, entailing the production of a concentrate that will be further processed overseas.
Reports on both projects are included in our August 2016 reports.