The rare earth elements (REE) have attracted much attention in recent years, being viewed as critical metals because of China’s domination of their supply chain. This is despite the fact that REE enrichments are known to exist in a wide range of settings, and have been the subject of much recent exploration. Although the REE are often referred to as a single group, in practice each individual element has a specific set of end-uses, and so demand varies between them. Future demand growth to 2026 is likely to be mainly linked to the use of NdFeB magnets, particularly in hybrid and electric vehicles and wind turbines, and in erbium-doped glass fiber for communications. Supply of lanthanum and cerium is forecast to exceed demand. There are several different types of natural (primary) REE resources, including those formed by high-temperature geological processes (carbonatites, alkaline rocks, vein and skarn deposits) and those formed by low-temperature processes (placers, laterites, bauxites and ion-adsorption clays). In this paper, we consider the balance of the individual REE in each deposit type and how that matches demand, and look at some of the issues associated with developing these deposits. This assessment and overview indicate that while each type of REE deposit has different advantages and disadvantages, light rare earth-enriched ion adsorption types appear to have the best match to future REE needs. Production of REE as by-products from, for example, bauxite or phosphate, is potentially the most rapid way to produce additional REE. There are still significant technical and economic challenges to be overcome to create substantial REE supply chains outside China.
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The overview presented here has been developed through discussions and focused research carried out as part of the EURARE, SoS RARE and HiTech AlkCarb projects. The EURARE project is funded by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme under Grant Agreement No. 309373. The SoS RARE project is funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council under Grant Agreement No. NE/M011429/1. The HiTech AlkCarb project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (Grant Agreement No. 689909). KG publishes with the permission of the Executive Director of the British Geological Survey. The Editor-in-Chief, John Carranza, and two anonymous reviewers are thanked for their positive comments on the initial manuscript.
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Goodenough, K.M., Wall, F. & Merriman, D. The Rare Earth Elements: Demand, Global Resources, and Challenges for Resourcing Future Generations. Nat Resour Res 27, 201–216 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11053-017-9336-5