Rare earth elements (or rare earths), numbered 57-71 and 39 in the periodic table of elements, are considered to be amongst the most important materials in the global race to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. They are named at or near the top on many governments’ critical minerals lists, including those of Australia, the United States, the European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom, emphasizing their importance to the world’s economic security. As a result of ongoing trade and security tensions between the U.S. and China, there is current and substantial attention on rare earths and other critical minerals.
The downstream demand for rare earths is divided into five major sectors: permanent magnet materials, catalytic materials, luminescent materials, polishing materials, and hydrogen storage materials.
Globally, rare earth permanent, or NdFeB, magnets are by far the largest use of rare earths by value. These magnets account for most of the consumption of the four “magnet” rare earths Praseodymium (Pr), Neodymium (Nd), Terbium (Tb) and Dysprosium (Dy), and are used in applications that generate mechanical energy, such as the drivetrain in electric vehicles, the generator in wind turbines, or the motor in cordless power tools. Other major uses for the remaining rare earths are in oil refining, automotive catalytic converters, pigments, glass polishing for optical instruments, phosphors for lighting and screens, lasers, specialty alloys and nuclear-control rods.
With the rapid development of global high-tech industries, new applications for rare earth materials are being found. Consequently, the consumption of all rare earths is likely to grow from where it is today.
For a more comprehensive description of the rare earths market, including applications, supply, demand and outlook, see the Australian Government’s Outlook for Selected Critical Minerals: Australia 2021. Prices for rare earth concentrate, carbonate, oxide, metal and magnet products are published daily by Shanghai Metals Market.