World Won't Run Out of Rare Earth Metals
Source: Reuters, Pratima Desai (6/30/10)
". . .rare earths more abundant than silver."
Andrew Bloodworth, head of minerals and waste at the BGS, a supplier of geological information, told Reuters rare earth metals were so named because the minerals they were originally extracted from, by early chemists, were rare.
"They are not rare, as a group they are more abundant than silver. It's very common for the media to get mixed up between reserves and resources," he said.
"People look at reserve reports, calculate 20 years' worth at current demand levels and then say ‘oh my god we're going to run out'. . .In reality reserves are dynamic and tend to run ahead of consumption. Reserves do not provide a reliable indication of impending shortages."
There are rare earth metal resources on all the continents, a relative abundance of them in the earth's crust, BGS said.
But production of rare earths is currently concentrated in China, which accounts for 95% of global supply, and is trying to clamp down on exports of its mineral wealth.
The process of turning rare earth minerals into refined products is the most advanced in China — estimated to have more than 35% of global reserves.
The country has dominated the rare earths arena because other producers have been unable to compete on cost.
"People think China is sitting on all the rare earth resources, that's not true," Bloodworth said. "As concerns grow about the Chinese monopoly, there is growing commercial interest in developing other deposits and bringing them to mine status."
A recent example is US-based Molycorp, which produces rare earth elements. It is planning to modernize and expand its Mountain Pass facility in California.