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Three Sisters of the outback in Carisbrooke, Australia
Three Sisters of the outback in Carisbrooke, Australia. Image by David Waterworth.

Batteries

Can Australia Supply The World With Rare Earth Minerals?

The short answer is: not yet. From Wikipedia:

“The rare-earth elements (REE), also called the rare-earth metals or (in context) rare-earth oxides, or the lanthanides … are a set of 17 nearly-indistinguishable lustrous silvery-white soft heavy metals…

“The rare earths have diverse applications in electrical and electronic components, lasers, glass, magnetic materials, and industrial processes, but since they do not occur as base metals or in lump or visible quantities like iron or aluminum, their names and properties are unfamiliar in everyday life. One of the most familiar may be unusually powerful neodymium magnets sold as novelties.…”

Rare-earth elements are relatively plentiful in Earth’s crust, but are typically dispersed and not often found concentration. Consequently, economically exploitable ore deposits are sparse. 

The Australian mining industry is under pressure to find, mine, and process more REE. Australia holds the world’s third largest reserves, at 3.19 million tons. However, this is minuscule compared to China’s reserves of 55.2 million tons.

Australian governments (national and state) are seeking alternative revenue streams, as coal exports look like they are diminishing in the long term in line with world governments’ commitments to decarbonisation. Demand is increasing for rare earths as electric vehicles take over the highways. With China reaching 19% EV penetration, it is possible they will no longer export their rare earth production. So, the pressure is on to both find more deposits and to process them in Australia (currently, they are processed in Malaysia). Lynas RE has commenced exploratory drilling around its Mt Weld site (one of the world’s richest in the concentration of REE) — drilling down to one kilometre.

Lynas Rare Earths currently operates three mines in Western Australia. As the only scale producer of REE outside of China, Lynas is preparing to meet an expected demand increase of up to 40 times over next decade, in line with the exponential take-up of EVs. Japan, South Korea, and the European Union are looking for alternative supplies of REE to use in their transition to EVs.

Perhaps it will be like lithium — prior to the increase in demand, much was said about limited availability of lithium and possible shortages. Now, Australia is the world’s largest exporter. People did not look for the mineral until the demand skyrocketed. Perhaps we should be searching the tailings of other mining ventures? 

Watch this space!

Source: issuu

 
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Written By

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

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