Rare earth elements facts

Rare earth elements (REEs) are a group of 15 elements referred to as the lanthanide series in the periodic table of elements. Scandium and yttrium, while not true REEs, are also included in this categorization because they exhibit similar properties to the lanthanides and are always found in the same ore bodies. REEs are key components in many electronic devices that we use in our daily lives, as well as in a variety of industrial applications.

Key facts

  • Canada hosts some of the most advanced REEs exploration projects in the world.
  • China is the world’s largest producer of REEs, accounting for close to 90% of global annual production, estimated at 135,000 tonnes.

Learn more about rare earth elements

Uses

Rare earth elements (REEs) are used in a variety of industrial applications, including electronics, clean energy, aerospace, automotive and defence. Global demand for REEs was estimated at roughly 136,000 tonnes in 2017.

The manufacturing of permanent magnets represents the single largest and most important end use for REEs, accounting for 24% of total consumption.

Permanent magnets are an essential component of modern electronics used in cell phones, televisions, computers, automobiles, wind turbines, jet aircraft and many other products. REEs are also widely used in high-technology and “green” products because of their luminescent and catalytic properties.

Rare earth elements uses, 2017

Text version

This bar graph shows the major industrial uses of REEs as of 2017. The largest use was in permanent magnets (24%), followed by fuel-cracking catalysts (21%), glass-polishing powders (14%), metallurgy and alloys (11%), other catalysts (9%), battery alloys (7%), phosphors (6%), ceramics (4%) and other products (4%).

Production

While not a current producer of REEs, Canada has some of the most advanced exploration projects in the world. Canada hosts 20 of the 63 advanced REEs projects tracked by Technology Metals Research, a company focused on markets and analysis of critical and strategic materials such as REEs.

REEs are categorized as being either “light” or “heavy”:

  • Light REEs (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium and scandium) are produced in global abundance and are in surplus supply
  • Heavy REEs (terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium and yttrium) are produced mainly in China and are in limited supply. Global efforts to bring new resources to the marketplace continue.

Many of Canada’s most advanced REEs exploration projects contain high concentrations of the globally valued heavy REEs used in high-technology and clean-energy applications.

Canada-based advanced REEs exploration projects containing significant concentrations (> 20%) of the “heavy” REEs, 2017
Projects* Location Expected refined REEs
production (tonnes/year)
Targeted production start year Portion that are
heavy REEs (%)
Buckton, DNI Metals Alberta Unspecified >2020 24
Foxtrot, Search Minerals Newfoundland and Labrador 10,000 >2020 21
Nechalacho, Avalon Northwest Territories 10,000 >2020 28
Kipawa, Matamec Quebec 6,000 >2020 36
Strange Lake, Quest Quebec 12,500 >2020 47
Grand-Vallée, Orbite Aluminae Quebec 1,000 >2020 20

* While Canada’s REEs resources continue to exist, several of the corporate entities developing these resources may no longer be solvent or have focused exploration efforts on other mineral deposits.

Learn more about Canada’s access to REEs.

International context

China is the world’s largest producer of REEs, accounting for nearly 90% of global annual production, estimated at 135,000 tonnes. The remaining 10% is shared among four other countries: Australia, Myanmar, Russia and Malaysia. China remains virtually the only producer of the valued heavy REEs.

World production of REEs, by country, 2017 (p)
Ranking Country Thousand tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 116.9 86.6%
2 Australia 13.4 9.9%
3 Myanmar 2.3 1.7%
4 Russia 2.2 1.6%
5 Malaysia 0.3 0.2%
Total   135.0 100.0%

The United States was the world’s largest supplier of REEs until the emergence of China in the mid-1990s. China was virtually the world’s sole REEs supplier until 2012, when the now-bankrupt US producer Molycorp Inc. and the Australian company Lynas Corporation Ltd. commenced commercial production.

World REEs supply, 1987–2017 (p)

Text version

This 30-year line graph shows REEs production by China compared with the rest of the world. In 1987, China’s production was estimated at 5,000 tonnes while the rest of the world had an estimated production of 35,000 tonnes. By 2005, China’s production was estimated to have reached 135,000 tonnes, while the rest of the world produced 3,000 tonnes. In 2017, China produced an estimated 117,000 tonnes, while the rest of the world produced an estimated 18,000 tonnes.

Notes and sources

(p) preliminary

Totals may be different because of rounding.

Uses

  • Rare earth elements (REEs), global uses, 2017
    • Adamas Intelligence; Roskill

Production

  • Canada-based advanced REEs exploration projects, 2017
    • Natural Resources Canada; Technology Metals Research

International context

  • World production of REEs, by country, 2017 (p)
    • Adamas Intelligence; Roskill; Natural Resources Canada
  • World REEs supply, 1987–2017 (p)
    • Curtin University; Adamas Intelligence