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Visualizing China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals

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China's rare earth metals exports

China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals

Did you know that a single iPhone contains eight different rare earth metals?

From smartphones and electric vehicles to x-rays and guided-missiles, several modern technologies wouldn’t be what they are without rare earth metals. Also known as rare earth elements or simply “rare earths”, this group of 17 elements is critical to a number of wide-ranging industries.

Although deposits of rare earth metals exist all over the world, the majority of both mining and refining occurs in China. The above graphic from CSIS China Power Project tracks China’s exports of rare earth metals in 2019, providing a glimpse of the country’s dominating presence in the global supply chain.

China’s Top Rare Earth Export Destinations

Around 88% of China’s 2019 rare earth exports went to just five countries, which are among the world’s technological and economic powerhouses.

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Japan and the U.S. are by far the largest importers, collectively accounting for more than two-thirds of China’s rare earth metals exports.

Lanthanum, found in hybrid vehicles and smartphones, was China’s largest rare earth export by volume, followed by cerium. In dollar terms, terbium was the most expensive—generating $57.9 million from just 115 metric tons of exports.

Why China’s Dominance Matters

As the world transitions to a cleaner future, the demand for rare earth metals is expected to nearly double by 2030, and countries are in need of a reliable supply chain.

China’s virtual monopoly in rare earth metals not only gives it a strategic upper hand over heavily dependent countries like the U.S.—which imports 80% of its rare earths from China—but also makes the supply chain anything but reliable.

“China will not rule out using rare earth exports as leverage to deal with the [Trade War] situation.”

—Gao Fengping et al., 2019, in a report funded by the Chinese government via Horizon Advisory.

A case in point comes from 2010 when China reduced its rare earth export quotas by 37%, which in part resulted in skyrocketing rare earth prices worldwide.

average prices of rare earth imports

The resulting supply chain disruption was significant enough to push the EU, the U.S., and Japan to jointly launch a dispute settlement case through the World Trade Organization, which was ruled against China in 2014.

On the brighter side, the increase in prices led to an influx of capital in the rare earth mining industry, financing more than 200 projects outside China. While this exploration boom was short-lived, it was successful in kick-starting production in other parts of the world.

Breaking China’s Rare Earth Monopoly

China’s dominance in rare earths is the result of years of evolving industrial policies since the 1980s, ranging from tax rebates to export restrictions. In order to reduce dependence on China, the U.S. and Japan have made it a priority to diversify their sources of rare earth metals.

For starters, the U.S. has added rare earth metals to its list of critical minerals, and President Donald Trump recently issued an executive order to encourage local production. On the other side of the world, Japan is making efforts to reduce China’s share of its total rare earth imports to less than 50% by 2025.

Increasing rare earth mining outside of China has reduced China’s global share of mining, down from 97.7% in 2010 to 62.9% in 2019. But mining is merely one piece of the puzzle.

Ultimately, the large majority of rare earth refining, 80%, resides in China. Therefore, even rare earths mined overseas are sent to China for final processing. New North American refining facilities are being set up to tackle this, but the challenge lies in managing the environmental impacts of processing rare earths.

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Visualizing the Genealogy of Exploration Success

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Mineral Exploration Success

Visualizing the Genealogy of Exploration Success

In the last decade, 63% of all mineral discoveries in the Western world were made by junior explorers. These small companies are the vision of a dedicated few.

It is the people that make a great company, and it is great explorers that make great discoveries. This infographic sponsored by SKRR Exploration shows the incredible experience and knowledge of two leaders in mineral exploration brought together in one new venture.

Two Paths to Exploration Success

According to the common adage, overnight success stories take a long time. Ron Neolitzky and Ross McElroy have traveled two different paths but along their route, they have uncovered vast amounts of mineral wealth in Canada.

Ronald Netolitzky Ross McElroy
  • 1964-67: Graduated from the University of Alberta with a B.Sc and M.Sc. in Geology.
  • 1985: Became President of Delaware Resources and acquired the Snip property.
  • 1986: Struck a gold discovery at the Snip property, which produced 1Moz of gold over its lifetime.
  • 1988: Invested in Consolidated Stikine Resources and drill-tested Eskay Creek, which would go on to produce 3.3Moz of gold and 160Moz of silver over its lifetime.
  • 1990: Sold Eskay Creek stake to International Corona for $67/share as part of an acquisition.
  • 1990: Received the Bill Dennis Prospector of the Year Award.
  • 1993: Purchased 100% of the Brewery Creek property as president of Loki Gold.
  • 1996: Transformed Brewery Creek into a heap-leach operation.
  • 1996: Merged Loki Gold with Baja Gold and Viceroy Gold to create an entity with an annual production of 200Koz of gold.
  • 1996: Received AME’s E.A. Scholz Award for discovery and development achievements.
  • 2003: Acquired the Galore Creek property for Spectrum Gold, later merged with NovaGold Resources and partially sold to Teck Resources for $275M.
  • 2007: Oversaw Yamana Gold’s $577 million acquisition of Viceroy Resources as chairman.
  • 2010: Oversaw Osisko Mining’s $372 million acquisition of Brett Resources as chairman.
  • 2015: Inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.
  • 1987: Graduated from the University of Alberta with B.Sc. in Geology.
  • 1987: Joined uranium giant Cameco and worked on the McArthur River discovery in Saksatchewan’s Athabasca Basin, which is now the world’s largest uranium mine.
  • 1989: Worked with French nuclear Company Cogema (now Orano) on the Shea Creek uranium discovery in Saskatchewan, Canada.
  • 1990-99: Managed the Hope Bay Gold Project with BHP Minerals, discovering three high-grade gold deposits.
  • 2007: Joined Fission Energy as VP of Exploration before rising to the rank of COO.
  • 2009: Led the technical team that discovered the high-grade J Zone uranium deposit at Waterbury Lake and sold to Denison Mines.
  • 2012: Used airborne radiometrics and radon in-lake survey technology to discover the Triple R uranium deposit on the Patterson Lake Property, with an indicated resource of 102M lbs of U3O8.
  • 2013: Received the Mining Person of the Year Award from the Northern Miner.
  • 2014: Received the Bill Dennis Award for a Canadian discovery.

This combined experience is coming to bear in one company to uncover Canada’s next mineral frontier.

Bringing Experience Together: SKRR Exploration

SKRR brings together the experience of two great explorers to uncover the next mineral frontier, Saskatchewan. This junior explorer is working on the next great discovery with 6 projects in the Trans-Hudson geological corridor

  • Father Lake Nickel Project: Copper, Nickel
  • Ithingo Project: Gold
  • Irving Project: Gold
  • Cathro Project: Gold
  • Leland Project: Gold
  • Olson Project: Gold
  • Manson Bay: Gold

With a proven location and legacy of exploration success, SKRR is ready to unlock the next mineral frontier in Saskatchewan and continue the tradition of a dedicated few uncovering the next great discovery.

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The World’s Top 10 Gold Mining Companies

Together, the world’s top 10 gold mining companies account for roughly 22% of the share of the total gold market.

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Top 10 Gold Mining Companies

The World’s Top 10 Gold Mining Companies

Unlike paper currency or many other types of assets, gold has maintained its value throughout the ages.

First used by cultures in modern-day Eastern Europe in 4,000 BC to make decorative objects, the metal today represents a global business with operations on every continent, except Antarctica.

The industry is dominated by a select group of majors.

Together, the world’s top 10 gold miners produced 27.48 million ounces (Moz) in 2020, worth approximately $48 billion, according to data from Mining Intelligence.

North America Leading

At a country level, China is the largest producer in the world accounting for around 11% of total global production.

However, no Chinese company appears among the top miners.

RankCompanyHeadquartersCountry2020 Production (Moz)
1Newmont DenverUSA 🇺🇸5.88
2Barrick GoldTorontoCanada 🇨🇦4.84
3PolyusMoscowRussia 🇷🇺2.87
4AngloGold AshantiJohannesburgSouth Africa 🇿🇦2.81
5Kinross GoldTorontoCanada 🇨🇦2.38
6Gold FieldsJohannesburgSouth Africa 🇿🇦2.13
7Newcrest MiningMelbourneAustralia 🇦🇺2.06
8Agnico EagleTorontoCanada 🇨🇦1.73
9Polymetal InternationalSt. PetersburgRussia 🇷🇺1.40
10Harmony GoldJohannesburgSouth Africa 🇿🇦1.38

At the top of the gold mining companies list, Colorado-based Newmont has ownership of mines in Nevada, Colorado, Ontario, Quebec, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Australia, Ghana, Argentina, Peru, and Suriname.

As the only American company on the list, Newmont produces 21% of the yellow metal poured by the top companies.

Canada, which is known for its mining industry, has three companies on the list; Barrick Gold, Kinross Gold, and Agnico Eagle, producing 32% combined.

Russia, which is expected to become the world’s top producer by 2029, has two companies ranked. Together, Polyus and Polymetal represent 15% of the top miners’ production.

The top 10 players account for ~22% of the total market share, which is anticipated to grow due to increased merger and acquisition activities.

Wealth and Luxury

Over six and a half thousand years after its discovery, more than 90% of the gold mined annually is destined for jewelry, bullion, and coins.

  • Jewelry: 36.83%,
  • Investment: 46.64%,
  • Central banks: 8.58%,
  • Technology: 7.95%

The metal is also used in dentistry, as it is the best material for fillings and crowns since it is easy to insert, and is non-reactive with the human body.

Golden Future

Global production fell by 1% in 2020, the first decline in a decade, according to the World Gold Council.

Some analysts argue the world has reached “peak gold” – which means that the maximum rate of extraction has passed and the production of the metal will continue to fall until, eventually, mining for it shall cease entirely.

Demand, however, shows no sign of slowing down as the golden metal remains firmly synonymous with security, stability, and longevity.

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