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Rare earth elements facts

Rare earth elements (REE) are a group of 15 elements referred to as the lanthanide series in the periodic table of elements. Although they are not true REEs, scandium and yttrium are included in this categorization because they exhibit similar properties to the lanthanides and are 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 has some of the largest known reserves and resources (measured and indicated) of rare earths in the world, estimated at over 14 million tonnes of rare earth oxides in 2021
  • Manufacturing permanent magnets is the largest global use for REEs, accounting for 29% of total forecasted demand.
  • China is the world’s largest producer with an estimated 140,000 tonnes of REEs in 2020, accounting for almost 60% of global production.
  • Many countries, including Canada, have rare earths resources but producing REEs requires complex separation and refining processes.

Learn more about rare earth elements

Uses

REEs are used in a variety of industrial applications, including electronics, clean energy, aerospace, automotive and defence.

Manufacturing permanent magnets is the single largest and most important end use for REEs, accounting for 29% of the forecasted demand in 2020.

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 used widely in high technology and “green” products because of their luminescent and catalytic properties

Rare earth elements uses, 2020

chart
Text version

This chart shows the major industrial uses of REEs forecasted for 2020. The largest use is in permanent magnets (29.4%), followed by catalysts (20.2%); polishing powder and additives (13.6%); other products (8.9%); metallurgy (8.6%); batteries (7.8%); glass (7.8%); ceramics (2.7%); phosphors (0.6%); and pigments (0.4%).

Production

Although not a current commercial producer of REEs, Canada is host to a number of advanced exploration projects and some of the largest reserves and resources (measured and indicated) of these metals. These reserves and resources are estimated at over 14 million tonnes in 2021.

In 2021, the Nechalacho project initiated a small-scale demonstration mining project. The three-year project is located southeast of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. Material is crushed and sorted on site and will be transported to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, for further processing.

Canadian REE projects

map
Text version

This map shows the location, status and stage of Canadian REE projects.

Northwest Territories

  • Nechalacho T-Zone and Tardiff Zone project – active at the processing stage
  • Nechalacho Basal Zone project – active at the feasibility stage

British Columbia

  • Wicheeda project – active at the resource estimate stage

Alberta

  • SBH Black Shale project – suspended/on-hold at the preliminary economic assessment stage

Saskatchewan

  • Alces Lake project – active at the exploration stage
  • Falcon Point project – active at the resource estimate stage
  • Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) Rare Earth Processing Facility project – active at the processing stage

Ontario

  • Clay-Howells project – suspended/on-hold at the resource estimate stage
  • Lackner Lake project – suspended/on-hold at the resource estimate stage
  • Elliot Lake project – suspended/on-hold at the resource estimate stage
  • Lavergne-Springer project – active at the resource estimate stage

Quebec

  • Eldor (Ashram) project – active at the preliminary economic assessment stage
  • Strange Lake project – active at the preliminary economic assessment stage
  • Montviel project – active at the resource estimate stage
  • St-Bruno Rare Earth Recycling Demonstration Plant project – active at the processing stage
  • Kwyjibo project – active at the preliminary economic assessment stage
  • Kipawa (Zeus) project – active at the feasibility stage
  • Niobec - REE Zone project – inactive at the resource estimate stage

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Red Wine project – active at the resource estimate stage
  • Port Hope Simpson (Foxtrot) project – active at the preliminary economic assessment stage

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

  • Light REEs (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium and scandium) are produced in abundance globally 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 REE exploration projects contain high concentrations of the globally valued heavy REEs used in high-technology and clean-energy applications.

Learn more about why rare earth elements are important.

International context

China is the world’s largest producer of REEs, accounting for almost 60% of global annual production, estimated at 140,000 tonnes for 2020. Most of the remaining 40% is shared between the United States, Burma (Myanmar), Australia and Madagascar. China remains virtually the only producer of the valued heavy REEs.

World production of REEs, by country, 2020 (p)
Ranking Country Thousand tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 140.0 57.5%
2 United States 38.0 15.6%
3 Burma (Myanmar) 30.0 12.3%
4 Australia 17.0 7.0%
5 Madagascar 8.0 3.3%
- Other countries 10.3 4.2%
- Total 243.3 100.0%

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 REE supplier until 2012, when the now-bankrupt US producer Molycorp Inc. and the Australian company Lynas Rare Earths Ltd. started commercial production.

World REE production, 2011–2020 (p)

graph
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This 10-year graph shows REE production by China compared with the rest of the world. In 2011, China’s estimated production was 105,000 tonnes while the rest of the world produced an estimated 111,000 tonnes. China’s production remained relatively stable between 95,000 tonnes and 105,000 tonnes between the years 2011 and 2017. Production by the rest of the world increased from 6,000 tonnes to 27,000 tonnes over the same period. Production in China increased rapidly starting in 2018 at 120,000 tonnes and increasing to 140,000 tonnes by 2020. Similarly, production in the rest of the world increased to 70,000 tonnes in 2018 and reached 100,000 tonnes by 2020.

Notes and sources

(p) preliminary

Totals may be different because of rounding.

Uses

  • Adamas Intelligence
    • Rare Earth Magnet Market Outlook to 2030
      • Roskill

Production and resources and reserves

  • Reserves and resources
    • Natural Resources Canada, compiled from company reports
    • Includes reserves and minerals resources (measured or indicated). Although Canada’s REE resources continue to exist, projects may be on hold, and the corporate entities developing these resources may no longer be solvent or may have changed focus to other mineral deposits or business segments.
  • Canadian REE projects
    • Company websites, press releases and NI-43-101 reports

International context

  • World production of REEs, by country, 2020 (p)
    • United States Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2021
  • World REE production, 2011–2020 (p)
    • United States Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2021
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