Rare earth elements facts

Rare earth elements (REE) are a group of 15 elements referred to as the lanthanide series in the periodic table. Scandium and yttrium, while not true REE, are also included in this categorization because they exhibit similar properties to the lanthanides and are always found in the same ore bodies. REE 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 rare earth elements exploration projects in the world.
  • China is the world’s largest producer of rare earth elements, accounting for close to 90% of global annual production, estimated at 144,000 tonnes.

Learn more about rare earth elements

Uses

REE are used in a variety of industrial applications including electronics, clean energy, aerospace, automotive and defence. Global demand for REE was estimated at roughly 130,000 tonnes in 2016.

The manufacturing of permanent magnets represents the single largest and most important end use for REE, 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. REE are also widely used in high-technology and “green” products because of their luminescent and catalytic properties.

Rare earth elements uses, 2016

Text version

This chart shows the major industrial uses of rare earth elements as of 2016. 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 REE, Canada has some of the most advanced exploration projects in the world. Canada hosts 20 of the 63 advanced REE projects tracked by Technology Metals Research, a company focused on markets and analysis of critical and strategic materials such as REE. Also, Canadian exploration companies are developing an additional 6 advanced REE projects located outside of Canada.

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

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

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

Canada-based advanced rare earth elements exploration projects, 2016
Projects Location Expected refined REE
production (tonnes/year)
Targeted production start year Portion that are
heavy REE (%)
Buckton, DNI Metals Alberta Unspecified >2020 24
Clay Howells, Canada Rare Earth Ontario 5,000 >2020 10
Eco-Ridge,Pele Mountain Ontario 4,000 >2020 11
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

Learn more about Canada’s access to rare earth elements.

International context

China is the world’s largest producer of REE, accounting for nearly 90% of global annual production, estimated at 144,000 tonnes. The remaining 10% is shared among 4 other countries (Australia, Myanmar, Russia and Malaysia). China remains virtually the only producer of the valued heavy REE.

Global production of rare earth elements, by country, 2016 (p)
Ranking Country Thousand tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 125.0 86.6%
2 Australia 14.3 9.9%
3 Myanmar 2.5 1.7%
4 Russia 2.3 1.6%
5 Malaysia 0.2 0.2%
- Total 144.4 100.0%

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

Global rare earth elements supply, 1986–2016 (p)

Text version

This 30-year line graph illustrates rare earth elements production by China compared to the rest of the world. In 1986, China’s production was estimated to be 5,000 tonnes while the rest of the world had 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 2016, China produced an estimated 125,000 tonnes while the rest of the world produced an estimated 19,000 tonnes.

Notes and sources

(p) preliminary

Totals may be different because of rounding.

Uses

  • Rare earth elements uses, 2016
    • Adamas Intelligence; Roskill  

Production

  • Canada-based advanced rare earth elements exploration projects, 2016
    • Natural Resources Canada; Technology Metals Research

International context

  • Global production of rare earth elements, by country, 2016 (p)
    • Adamas Intelligence; Roskill; Natural Resources Canada
  • Global rare earth elements supply, 1986–2016 (p)
    • Curtin University; Adamas Intelligence