In this guide, we discuss the world’s rare earth metal resources and reserves.
We outline how much we might have left, whether we might run out, when we might run out, what might happen if we do, and more.
(Note – the USGS rare-earth-oxide (REO) equivalent data below includes lanthanides and yttrium, but excludes most scandium. This is noted in the footnotes of the USGS report. So, we’ve included scandium USGS data separately to REO USGS data in the guide below. All other data from other publications includes scandium unless otherwise noted.)
Summary – The World’s Rare Earth Metal Resources
What Are Rare Earths?
They are a collection of 15 elements, plus yttrium and scandium (so, 17 elements overall)
We go into more detail about them below
Rare Earth Elements Are Found In ‘Rare Earth Minerals’
We explain in the guide below how rare earth elements are not found in commercially minable concentrations/deposits on their own, so, ‘rare’ earth minerals are mined, and elements are separated from them at separation facilities
We also give some examples of different minerals
Uses For Rare Earths Across Society, & Their Importance
We list the range of uses for rare earths across different industries in the guide below
Rare earths (plus scandium) have been listed by the US in the 35 most critical minerals list
We also identify how rare earth demand may increase into the future as they are used more in certain types of technology and ‘clean energy and transportation’ applications
How Much Rare Earth Metals Are Left In The World – Resources, & Reserves
It can be difficult to find data on total rare earth resources
Some sets of information indicate there’s 120,000 kt of world economic resources of REO (rare earth oxides), and 120,000,000 metric tons of REO equivalent reserves
Which Country Has The Most Economic Resources Of Rare Earths?
China currently has the most at 38% of the world total
Which Country Has The Most Rare Earth Reserves?
China has the most REO (rare earth oxide) equivalent reserves
Total Rare Earth Production
In 2021, one report indicated that REO equivalent mine production was 280,000 metric tons
Which Country Produces The Most Rare Earths?
China current produces the most REO equivalent from mines
One report indicated that in 2018, China produced 72% of the world’s REO production
Total Rare Earth Demand & Consumption, & Future Forecasts
Total global demand for REOs in 2019 was 208,250 metric tons, and some forecasts indicate REO demand will increase significantly on an annual basis into the future
Are We Running Out Of Rare Earths, & Will We Run Out Of Rare Earths In The Future?
In the short term, it doesn’t appear as though we will run out of rare earths
However, we list factors that might influence whether rare earth resources start depleting over the medium to long term
Obviously this is a general answer, and specific answers can be provided for each of the 17 rare earths separately
When Will We Run Out Of Rare Earths? – How Many Years Worth Are Left?
It might not be clear how many years worth of rare earths are left.
One estimate indicates it might be 15 to 20 years, however it’s not immediately clear what assumptions and factors this estimate is based on.
What Happens If We Run Out Of Rare Earths?
As any resource is depleted, factors like availability of that resource for it’s different uses, and also price, can both be impacted (amongst other factors)
Rare Earth Shortages & Potential Supply Issues
In the guid below, we list several points that might be relevant to current and future rare earth shortages and supply issues
China and Asia’s current dominance over production of rare earths is a consideration, as several countries import majority of their rare earths from China
We also link to a guide that has more general information on shortages and supply deficits for resources
Managing Rare Earth Resources More Sustainably
There might be several ways to manage rare earth resources more sustainably, which we list in the guide below
For example, we identify recovering and recycling rare earths, and also substitute minerals or materials for rare earths
Recovering and recycling rare earths from e-waste and magnets for example may have several challenges that have to be addressed to make the activity more cost effective and feasible in general
We have included sections specifically for scandium in the guide below
Not a lot of data is available for scandium at the moment
No scandium was mined in the US in 2021, and in the past, China, the Philippines, and Russia have been leading producers
What Are Rare Earths?
Rare earths are referred to as rare earth elements, rare earth metals, rare earth oxides, or lanthanides
They are a group of metals that comprise the 15 elements of the lanthanide series (ga.gov.au lists the 15 elements in their guide), with yttrium (Y) and scandium (Sc) being grouped with the lanthanides, and referred to as rare earth elements as well. wikipedia.org also provides a full list and table of the rare earths, with descriptions and details on each
wikipdia.org refers to them as ‘… a set of 17 nearly-indistinguishable lustrous silvery-white soft heavy metals’
Although REE’s are referred to as rare, they are not particularly rare in the earth’s crust
Although they can be abundant compared to other elements, they often don’t occur in high enough concentrations to make commercial mining operations feasible (compared to most other mineral commodities)
Rare Earth Elements Found In ‘Rare Earth Minerals’
Rare earth elements are often found in and obtained from minerals (i.e. these minerals are sources of rare earth elements, and are sometimes referred to as ‘rare earth minerals’)
These minerals might be either the primary product being mined, or accessory minerals being mined
Two examples of minerals that are mined and contain rare earth elements are Bastnaesite (or bastnäsite), a rare earth fluorocarbonate mineral, and Monazite, a phosphate mineral.
usgs.gov mentions that both these minerals are mined domestically in the US as a form of rare earth elements mining and production
For scandium specifically, usgs.gov notes that on a global level: ‘Scandium was recovered from titanium, zirconium, cobalt, and nickel process streams’
Minerals like these are found in commercial deposits (i.e. deposits that are commercially feasible to mine)
cnbc.com notes how minerals are separated from rare earths at separating facilities once minerals are mined
Uses For Rare Earth Metals Across Society, & Why They’re Important
Uses For Rare Earth Metals In General
REOs are used for a variety of applications, including but not limited to:
– Electronics and technology, such as smart phones, and a range of other products
– Magnets and super magnets
– Catalysts, such as alloy catalysts
– Power tools
– Transport, such as motors for hybrid and also electric vehicles, and catalytic converters
– Health and medicine, such as medical devices
– Defence, such as missiles
– Clean energy, such as renewable energy like wind turbines
How Specific Rare Earths Are Used Across Different Applications
The cnbc.com reports lists how specific rare earths are used across different applications
ga.gov.au also lists other general and specific uses for REE’s
Importance Of Rare Earths
Not only do the currentuses of rare earths make them important, but their future potential uses make them important too
ga.gov.au notes ‘The growing strategic importance of REE and scandium was reflected in their inclusion in the US Government’s 2018 list of 35 critical minerals’
End Uses For Rare Earths In The US (By %)
The estimated end use distribution of rare earths [in the US in 2021] was as follows: catalysts, 74%; ceramics and glass, 10%; metallurgical applications and alloys, 6%; polishing, 4%; and other, 6% (usgs.gov)
How Much Rare Earth Metals Are Left In The World? – Resources, & Reserves
Based on a conversion of kt to tons (where 1kt equals 1000 tons), world economic resources of REO may be roughly the same as current proven reserves (120,000 kt x 1000 is 120,000,000).
The ga.gov.au indicates that ‘… world economic resources of rare earths in 2018 totalled 120 000 kt of REO’
usgs.gov doesn’t specify the amount of world resources of rare-earth oxide equivalent
They do however mention that: ‘[North America’s] measured and indicated resources of rare earths were estimated to include 2.4 million tons in the United States and more than 15 million tons in Canada’
From usgs.gov: [The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that global rare-earth-oxide (REO) equivalent reserves are 120,000,000 metric tons]
Countries With The Most Economic Resources Of Rare Earths
China current has the most world economic resources of rare earths, followed by Brazil and Vietnam in equal second, and Russia in third
[China had the most world economic resources of rare earths in 2018, at 44,000 kt of REO. This was 38% of the world total]
[Brazil and Vietnam were equal second, with each having 22,000 and 19% of the world total]
[Russia was third at 12,000 and 10%]
Countries With The Largest Rare Earth Reserves
China has the most REO equivalent reserves, followed by Vietnam in second, and then Brazil and Russia in equal third
[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that China has the largest rare-earth-oxide (REO) equivalent reserves in the world at 44,000,000 metric tons]
[Vietnam is second at 22,000,000, and Brazil and Russia in equal third at 21,000,000 each]
Total Rare Earth Production
[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that total global rare-earth-oxide (REO) equivalent mine production in 2021 was 280,000 metric tons]
Countries That Produce The Most Rare Earth Metals
China current produces the most REO equivalent from mines, with the US in second, Burma third, and Australia fourth
[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that China produced the most rare-earth-oxide (REO) equivalent from mines at 168,000 metric tons]
[The United States was in second at 43,000, Burma third at 26,000, and Australia fourth at 22,000]
ga.gov.au notes that [In 2018, China produced 72% of the world’s REO production]
Total Rare Earth Metals Demand & Consumption, & Future Forecasts
The total global demand for rare earth oxides (REOs) [was] 208,250 metric tons in 2019 …
The total global demand for rare earth oxides (REOs) is expected to increase … [to] 304,678 metric tons by 2025
cnbc.com mentions how demand may continue to increase for rare earths in the future, particularly in technology and for electric cars
Are We Running Out Of Rare Earth Metals, & Will We Run Out In The Future?
Different rare earths may have different amounts of resources left
But, in general, it doesn’t appear as though we will run out of rare earths in the short term
Whether we will run out of rare earths in the medium to long term might depend on factors including, but not limited to:
– Whether rare earth resources can continue to be discovered, and converted into proven reserves that stay stable or increase over time (instead of depleting)
– Annual production totals (and production capacity)
– Whether the mining of primary minerals that rare earths are obtained from impact the production of rare earths in the future
– Whether rare earths can be produced from sources other than they are being produced from now (i.e. from different sources, and also from developmental pilot plants and projects)
– Annual consumption/demand totals, and how demand continues to grow with certain types of products and technologies in the future
– The recovery and recycling of rare earths from e-waste and other waste
– Whether substitutes can be used instead of rare earths for certain applications
Why We May Not Run Out Of Mined Resources
When Will We Run Out Of Rare Earth Metals? … How Many Years Worth Of Rare Earth Metals Are Left?
Some reports indicate there may only be a couple of decades of rare earth metals left.
However, it’s not clear what assumptions and variables these reports take into account.
It’s possible new proven reserves of rare earth minerals could increase this estimate into the future.
China – which produces around 90% of the world’s rare earth metals – claims that its mines might run dry in just 15-20 years (bbc.com)
What Happens If We Run Out Of Rare Earth Metals?
Running out of any resource may impact things such as:
– The availability of that resource for the key things we use it for across society.
Specifically for rare earth metals, applications like electronics and technology, magnets, and so on might be impacted
– The price of that resource as it becomes more scarce, and consequently, the affordability of the things we use that resource for
The price of resources increasing as reserves are depleted is something we mentioned in our guide about why we may not run out of mined resources anytime soon.
Rare Earth Metal Shortages & Potential Supply Issues
The scope of this guide does not include an economic analysis of rare earth shortages.
Some things that might be mentioned specifically in regards to rare earth metals that might impact supply in the future might be:
– cnbc.com notes that ‘… extracting, processing and refining the metals poses a range of technical, political and environmental issues’
– China has a significant amount of rare earth resources, and produces a significant amount of rare earths at this point in time.
Two or three other countries also make up a significant amount of the overall recoverable rare earths along with China.
How these countries and major exporters of rare earths (like China) make decisions and decide to trade internationally in the future could play a role.
Countries are currently reasonably reliant on importing from China for rare earths. cnbc.com notes this too.
Although, some reports indicate that China may not have as much control and influence over rare Earth metals as some sources indicate.
There’s an interesting article that explains how ‘[other countries have] other sources for [rare earth metals other than what China produces], and [there are] ways to circumvent China’s control of the global supply’.
You can read more in the the verge.com report in the sources list below
wikipedia.org has more information on the geopolitics of rare earths when it comes to supply
– According to cnbc.com, the US has signalled an intention to make rare earth metals a ‘… domestic supply chain [priority]’, especially with climate and technology policy going forward
However, cnbc.com notes achieving self sufficiency from ‘China and other Asia-based supply chains’ would be a short to medium term challenge, and how it might be a longer term goal instead
– cnbc.com indicates that extracting rare earths from coal might be one way to increase production in the future and that various recycling methods may be available to recover more rare earths
Are Rare Earth Metals Renewable Resources?
Rare earth metals are technically non-renewable resources
They are finite, and take far longer to form in nature than the rate that they are consumed at across society.
Having said that, there might be ways to manage the rare earth metals we’ve already extracted more sustainably, so that their non renewable status becomes less of an issue in some ways.
Managing Rare Earth Metal Resources More Sustainably
There might be a range of ways to manage rare earths more sustainably, including but not limited to:
– Reducing consumption and demand for rare earths, or using them more efficiently
– Recovering, recycling and re-using rare earths
– Substituting rare earths where possible
These options and others might place less of a burden on extracting new rare earths in the future.
Recovering & Recycling Rare Earth Metals
Although rare earths can be recovered and recycled, there might be several challenges in doing so at the moment.
How Rare Earth Metals Can Be Recovered & Recycled
theconversation.com indicates that rare earth metals are obtained via mining, but also through recovering them from traditional e-waste recycling
cnbc.com indicates rare earths might be recycled from ‘… old batteries or disk drives [but recycling systems …] can be costly’. Rare earth magnets are also listed as another potential recycling source
Potentially Low Rates Of Rare Earth Recovery & Recycling
usgs.gov mentions that ‘Limited quantities of rare earths are recovered from batteries, permanent magnets, and fluorescent lamps [in the US as of 2021]’
Potential Drawbacks To Mining & Recovering/Recycling Rare Earths
theconversation.com mentions that there may be drawbacks to rare earth mining and recovery from e-waste, such as ‘… high cost, environmental damage, pollution and risks to human safety’
As of 2021, ongoing research is still taking place in both these areas to help improve them
Rare Earth Substitutes
usgs.gov indicates that ‘[Rare earth] Substitutes are available for many applications but generally are less effective’
So, there might be tradeoffs to rare earth substitutes
How Much Scandium Is Left On Earth? – Resources, & Reserves
usgs.gov notes that scandium is abundant in more that 100 minerals in low concentrations, and lists the countries where scandium resources have been identified.
They don’t however give a specific resource total.
According to usgs.gov: ‘As a result of it’s low concentration, scandium is produced exclusively as a byproduct during processing of various ores or recovered from previously processed tailings or residues’
They list the specific countries and ores that scandium has been recovered in and from.
Scandium In The United States
usgs.gov notes this information about scandium specifically in the US in 2021:
– Scandium was neither mined nor recovered
– No scandium was recycled
Production Of Scandium
Th usgs.gov report notes ‘no scandium was recovered from mining operations in the US [in 2021]’, and ‘foreign mine production data for 2020 and 2021 was not available’
They also list various places and methods of producing scandium worldwide.
Some of the main methods involve mining.
However, other methods include:
‘… technology [that produces] aluminum-scandium alloys as byproduct of uranium production
[Pilot plants and different projects that can produce scandium in different ways]’
Countries That Produce The Most Scandium
[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that] China, the Philippines, and Russia were the leading producers
Are We Running Out Of Scandium? & Will We Run Out Of Scandium In The Future?
In the short term, we might not run out of scandium.
Whether we run out of scandium in the future might be dependent on similar factors as what we listed for the other rare earths in the guide above.
Additionally, the same ‘why we might not run out of resources’ guide is applicable to scandium.
When Will We Run Out Of Scandium? How Many Years Worth Of Scandium Are Left?
At this point in time, we don’t have any estimates available of how many years worth of scandium might be left.
Substitutes For Scandium
usgs.gov lists different alloys that might substitute for scandium alloys, as well as substitutes in lamps that contain scandium
However, the report also notes that sometimes substitution isn’t possible where scandium’s unique properties can’t be replicated
1. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/national-minerals-information-center/mineral-commodity-summaries (accessing the USGS ‘Mineral Commodities Summary Report’)