The Great Wall, China
China dominates the rare earth supply by > 90%
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The China Factor

In the closing decades of the last century China emerged as the major producer of rare earth elements (REE) raw materials, accounting for more than 95% of the world’s production. Most of this production is from the Bayan Obo polymetallic deposit in Inner Mongolia.

Set against a history of volatile export quotas, future supplies from China will be fundamentally driven by China’s growing domestic demand. Moreover, the Chinese government already started to create a strategic stockpile for rare earth materials including those used to produce electronic and sustainable energy products.

In 2010 Beijing significantly crimped exports of rare-earth minerals citing environmental reasons to clean up a chaotic industry. Seeing prices of the elements soar, investors funded dozens of mine exploration projects around the world. Since then China's share of global rare-earth output has been shrinking as miners elsewhere capitalized on fears the country controls too much global supply. China's export policies are the subject of a continuing dispute between Beijing, Washington and others before the World Trade Organization. The WTO in October ruled illegal certain restrictions on Chinese rare-earth exports, though Beijing is expected to appeal the largely symbolic decision.

Mountain Pass, a Californian mine (by Molycorp) and one in Australia (Mount Weld by Lynas) have ramped up recently, with others in South Africa, Vietnam, India and Kazakhstan believed in the construction phase. But those new sources have just been able to cut China's share of global supply to 86% from 93% between 2011 and 2012. Although new mine production may be able to make up the difference for some lighter elements then facing excess supply for elements such as cerium, lanthanum, and praseodymium, several forecasts show that there will likely be shortfalls of yttrium and several heavier rare earth elements (HREEs), such as, dysprosium, terbium, neodymium, and europium.

Many of the rare earth elements share such similar physical properties that separating individual elements to market specifications is difficult. Only few places outside China have the industrial capacity to separate the different rare earth metals, specifically companies in the U.S., Russia, France, Japan and elsewhere handle some of these steps.

In addition China still dominates processing the mined mineral concentrates into useful ingredients, including metals and magnets. For example, China supplies about 80% of the specialized magnets produced with heavy rare-earth metals that are used in wind power generators and mobile communication products.

This is why ANZAPLAN already separates the light from the heavy rare earth fraction for customer approval, while special attention is paid to all the valuable by-products which may be created during leaching and purification.