Rare earth metal production was on the rise again in 2022, jumping to 300,000 metric tons (MT) worldwide — that’s up significantly from 190,000 MT in 2018, just four years prior.
Demand for the metals is increasing as renewable energy becomes more important across the globe. Rare earths like neodymium and praseodymium, which are important in clean energy applications and high-tech industries, are in the spotlight, particularly as electric vehicles and hybrid cars gain popularity.
Ongoing tensions between the US and China, along with other sociopolitical factors, are impacting the outlook for rare earths investing. Since China is the world’s largest producer of the materials by far, the fraught relationship between the countries is directing attention to global supply chain disruption in the rare earths industry.
With that in mind, it’s worth being aware of rare earth metal production numbers. Here’s a look at the 10 countries that mined the most rare earths in 2022, as per the latest data from US Geological Survey.
Mine production: 210,000 MT
As mentioned, China has dominated rare earths production for quite some time. In 2022, its domestic output of 210,000 MT was up from 168,000 MT the previous year.
Chinese producers must adhere to a quota system for rare earths production. The quota for rare earths smelting and separation in 2022 was set at 202,000 MT (up from 162,000 MT in the previous year). Interestingly, this system led China to become the world’s top importer of rare earths in 2018.
The quota system is a response to China’s longstanding problems with illegal rare earths mining. Over the last decade, the country has taken steps to clean up its act, including shutting illegal or environmentally non-compliant rare earths mines, and limiting production and rare earths exports.
Currently, six state-owned miners are in charge of China’s rare earths industry, in theory allowing China to keep a strong handle on production. However, illegal rare earths extraction remains a challenge, and the Chinese government continues to take steps to curb this activity.
2. United States
Mine production: 43,000 MT
The US produced 43,000 MT of rare earths in 2022, up from 42,000 MT in the previous year.
Rare earths supply in the US currently comes only from the Mountain Pass mine in California, which went back into production in Q1 2018 after being put on care and maintenance in Q4 2015. It was run by Molycorp before it went bankrupt and then was bought by MP Mine Operation, now MP Materials (NYSE:MP).
The US is a major importer of rare earth materials, with demand for compounds and metals worth US$200 million in 2022; that’s up from US$160 million in 2021. The country has classified rare earths as critical minerals, a distinction that has come to the fore due to trade issues between the US and China.
Mine production: 18,000 MT
Rare earths production in Australia has been rising steadily for the last few years. However, in 2022, the nation’s output fell to 18,000 MT from 24,000 MT in 2021.
The country holds the world’s sixth largest rare earths reserves, and is poised to increase its output. Lynas (ASX:LYC,OTC Pink:LYSCF) operates the Mount Weld mine and concentration plant in the country, and in 2019 announced plans to boost production to 10,500 MT per year of neodymium-praseodymium products by 2025.
Australian company Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU,OTC Pink:NMEX) opened the country’s first heavy rare earths mine in 2018. Its main products are terbium and dysprosium, the latter of which is used in technology such as permanent magnets.
4. Myanmar (also known as Burma)
Mine production: 12,000 MT
Myanmar mined 12,000 MT of rare earths in 2022, down by more than 65 percent from 35,000 MT the previous year.
Little information is available about the country’s rare earth mineral deposits and mining projects, but the nation does have a close relationship with China. Myanmar provides 70 percent of China’s medium to heavy rare earths feedstock. Myanmar had a military coup in 2021, and that may be impacting reported rare earths production.
Mine production: 7,100 MT
Thailand’s rare earths production more than doubled to 8,200 MT in 2021, up from 3,600 MT in 2020; however, that figure slid to 7,100 MT in 2022. The country’s rare earths reserves are not currently known, but it remains a top 10 producer of rare earth metals.
Mine production: 4,300 MT
Vietnam’s rare earths production rose nearly elevenfold from 2021 to 2022, going from 400 MT to 4,300 MT. The country reportedly hosts several rare earth materials deposits with concentrations against its northwestern border with China and along its eastern coastline. Vietnam is interested in building its clean energy capacity, including solar panels, and is said to be looking to produce more rare earths for its supply chain for that reason.
Mine production: 2,900 MT
India’s 2022 production was just 2,900 MT, unchanged from the previous year, representing about 1 percent of global rare earths supply. India’s rare earths production is far below its potential, considering the nation holds almost 35 percent of the world’s total beach sand mineral deposits, which are significant sources of rare earths.
Mine production: 2,600 MT
Russia produced 2,600 MT of rare earths in 2022, nearly the same level as the previous four years. Prior to the country’s aggressive war against Ukraine, the Russian government was allegedly “unhappy” with its supply of rare earths. Russia has reportedly reduced mining taxes and offered discounted loans to investors in nearly a dozen projects intended to increase the nation’s share of global rare earths production from the current 1.3 percent to 10 percent by 2030. In terms of global rare earths reserves, Russia is tied for third with Brazil.
The Russia-Ukraine war has raised concerns over disruptions to the US/Europe rare earths supply chain.
Mine production: 960 MT
Madagascar recorded rare earths extraction of 960 MT in 2022, down dramatically from 6,800 MT the year before. It holds the Tantalus rare earths project, which is said to contain 562,000 MT of rare earth oxides.
Mine production: 80 MT
Back in 2012, a US$8.4 billion rare earths deposit was discovered in Brazil. The country holds rare earths reserves of 21,000,000 MT. So far, it seems little energy has been put into the discovery, with only 80 MT produced in Brazil in 2022.