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Rare Earth Metals Production is No Longer Monopolized by China

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rare earth metals production over time

Rare Earth Elements: The Technology Metals

In the midst of our daily hustle and bustle, we often don’t notice the raw materials that go into the technologies we rely on.

Rare earth metals, also known as rare earth elements or simply “rare earths”, are one such group of raw materials. From this group of 17 minerals, many are found in a range of technologies—from our smartphones and laptops to electric vehicles and wind turbines.

Rare Earth Metals Production Over the Years

Despite the relative abundance of rare earth deposits, extracting them from the ground is difficult, and preparing them for usage entails significant environmental risks.

The U.S. was the world’s leading producer of rare earth metals from the 1960s to the 1980s. However, China took the helm in the 1990s and has been the dominant producer ever since.

YearU.S. Production (metric tons)China’s Production (metric tons)ROW Production (metric tons)U.S. % ShareChina’s % Share
198513,4288,50017,75734%21%
199022,71316,48020,91738%27%
199522,20048,0009,70028%60%
20005,00073,0005,5006%87%
20050119,0003,0000%98%
20100120,00011,0000%92%
20155,900105,00019,1005%81%
202038,000140,00062,00016%58%

In 1985, China introduced a policy that partially refunded the taxes paid by domestic producers of rare earths, which lowered costs for Chinese mining companies. This, in addition to lax environmental regulations and cheap labor, made China’s rare earth industry increasingly competitive. In fact, its production increased 464% between 1985 and 1995.

Meanwhile, in California, the Mountain Pass Mine struggled to compete with Chinese producers while facing stringent environmental regulations. Therefore, the U.S. share of production declined from 34% in 1985 to 6% in 2000 before ceasing completely in 2002.

Putting Rare Earths in Different Baskets

In 2010, China slashed its rare earth export quotas by 37%, pushing rare earth prices to all-time highs. This, in turn, fueled an influx of capital into the rare earth mining industry and kickstarted mining in other countries.

Namely, Australia saw a 672% increase in rare earth production over the last decade, and more recently, Myanmar entered the mix—producing 30,000 metric tons of rare earths in 2020. Additionally, the Mountain Pass Mine is undergoing a revival following an investment from MP Materials in 2018. As a result, the U.S. share of production is growing again.

While the mining of rare earth metals is diversifying, 80% of refining still occurs in China. With the demand for rare earths projected to double by 2030, building both mining and refining capacity overseas may prove key in reducing reliance on China.

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Electrification

Visualizing Peru’s Silver Mining Strength

With a rich history of mining, Peru plays a vital role in supplying the world with silver for clean energy technologies and electrification.

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Peru's Silver Mining Strength

Visualizing Peru’s Silver Mining Strength

Peru’s silver mining industry is critical as the world progresses towards a clean energy transition. Silver’s use in EVs, solar energy, and mobile technologies will require ready supplies to meet demand.

Peru will be centre stage as the world’s second-largest producer of the precious metal.

This graphic sponsored by Silver X showcases Peru’s silver mining strength on the global scale, putting in perspective the country’s prolific production.

Global Silver Production by Country

Mexico, Peru, and China dominate global silver production, with these countries producing more than double the silver of any other country outside of the top three.

In terms of regional production, Central and South America provide the backbone for the world’s silver industry. With five nations in the top 10 producers, these regions delivered ~50% of the world’s 2020 silver production.

Country2020 Silver Production (in million ounces)Share of Global Silver Production
Mexico178.122.7%
Peru109.714.0%
China108.613.8%
Chile47.46.0%
Australia43.85.6%
Russia42.55.4%
Poland39.45.0%
United States31.74.0%
Bolivia29.93.8%
Argentina22.92.9%
World Total784.4100%

Along with being the top silver mining regions in the world, Central and South America silver production expects to have the strongest rebound in 2021.

While global silver production could increase by 8.2%, Central and South America’s production could rise by 12.1%.

Peru can feed this growth, with the country’s exploration investment forecast for this year expected to reach up to $300 million with over 60 projects currently in various stages of development.

The South American Powerhouse: Peru’s Silver Mining Strength

Despite its current silver production, there remains more to mine and explore. In fact, Peru holds the majority of the world’s silver reserves with 18.2%, making it the global focal point for silver exploration and future production.

CountrySilver Reserves (in tons)Share of World Silver
Peru91,00018.2%
China41,0008.2%
Mexico37,0007.4%
Chile26,0005.2%
Australia25,0005.0%
Other countries280,00056%
World total500,000100%

While 2020 and 2021 saw slowdowns in mineral production, Peru’s metallic mining subsector increased by 5.1% in August 2021 compared to the same month last year. The country’s National Institute of Statistics and Informatics also highlighted a double-digit rise in silver production of 22.7% compared to August of last year.

Satiating the World’s Silver Demand

As silver demand is forecasted to increase by 15% just in 2021, silver supply constraints are a clear roadblock for clean energy technologies and electric vehicle production. With Peru’s annual silver production forecasted to grow by more than 27% by 2024, the country is looking to solve the world’s growing silver supply crunch.

The nation’s strong credit ratings and well-established mining sector offers investors a unique opportunity to tap into the growth of Peru and its silver industry, while powering renewable energy and electric vehicle production.

As a Peru-based mineral development and exploration company, Silver X Mining is working to produce and uncover the silver deposits that will provide the world with the metal it needs for cleaner technologies.

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Misc

All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization

From iron ore to gold, over 3 billion tonnes of metals were mined in 2019. Which metals did miners produce?

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All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization

Metals are all around us, from our phones and cars to our homes and office buildings.

While we often overlook the presence of these raw materials, they are an essential part of the modern economy. But obtaining these materials can be a complex process that involves mining, refining, and then converting them into usable forms.

So, how much metal gets mined in a year?

Metals vs Ores

Before digging into the numbers, it’s important that we distinguish between ores and metals.

Ores are naturally occurring rocks that contain metals and metal compounds. Metals are the valuable parts of ores that can be extracted by separating and removing the waste rock. As a result, ore production is typically much higher than the actual metal content of the ore. For example, miners produced 347 million tonnes of bauxite ore in 2019, but the actual aluminum metal content extracted from that was only 62.9 million tonnes.

Here are all the metals and metal ores mined in 2019, according to the British Geological Survey:

Metal/OreQuantity Mined (tonnes)% of Total
Iron Ore3,040,000,00093.57%
Industrial Metals207,478,4866.39%
Technology and Precious Metals1,335,8480.04%
Total3,248,814,334100%

Miners produced roughly three billion tonnes of iron ore in 2019, representing close to 94% of all mined metals. The primary use of all this iron is to make steel. In fact, 98% of iron ore goes into steelmaking, with the rest fulfilling various other applications.

Industrial and technology metals made up the other 6% of all mined metals in 2019. How do they break down?

Industrial Metals

From construction and agriculture to manufacturing and transportation, virtually every industry harnesses the properties of metals in different ways.

Here are the industrial metals we mined in 2019.

MetalQuantity Mined (tonnes)% of Total
Aluminum62,900,00030%
Manganese Ore56,600,00027%
Chromium Ores and Concentrates38,600,00019%
Copper20,700,00010%
Zinc12,300,0006%
Titanium (Titanium Dioxide Content)6,300,0003%
Lead4,700,0002%
Nickel2,702,0001%
Zirconium Minerals (Zircon)1,337,0001%
Magnesium1,059,7361%
Strontium220,0000.11%
Uranium53,4000.03%
Bismuth3,7000.002%
Mercury2,4000.001%
Beryllium2500.0001%
Total207,478,486100%

Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

It’s no surprise that aluminum is the most-produced industrial metal. The lightweight metal is one of the most commonly used materials in the world, with uses ranging from making foils and beer kegs to buildings and aircraft parts.

Manganese and chromium rank second and third respectively in terms of metal mined, and are important ingredients in steelmaking. Manganese helps convert iron ore into steel, and chromium hardens and toughens steel. Furthermore, manganese is a critical ingredient of lithium-manganese-cobalt-oxide (NMC) batteries for electric vehicles.

Although copper production is around one-third that of aluminum, copper has a key role in making modern life possible. The red metal is found in virtually every wire, motor, and electrical appliance in our homes and offices. It’s also critical for various renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles.

Technology and Precious Metals

Technology is only as good as the materials that make it.

Technology metals can be classified as relatively rare metals commonly used in technology and devices. While miners produce some tech and precious metals in large quantities, others are relatively scarce.

MetalQuantity Mined in 2019 (tonnes)% of Total
Tin305,00023%
Molybdenum275,00021%
Rare Earth Elements220,00016%
Cobalt123,0009%
Lithium97,5007%
Tungsten91,5007%
Vanadium81,0006%
Niobium57,0004%
Cadmium27,5002%
Tantalum27,0002%
Silver26,2612%
Gold3,3500.3%
Indium8510.06%
Platinum Group Metals4570.03%
Gallium3800.03%
Rhenium490.004%
Total1,335,848100.00%

Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Tin was the most-mined tech metal in 2019, and according to the International Tin Association, nearly half of it went into soldering.

It’s also interesting to see the prevalence of battery and energy metals. Lithium, cobalt, vanadium, and molybdenum are all critical for various energy technologies, including lithium-ion batteries, wind farms, and energy storage technologies. Additionally, miners also extracted 220,000 tonnes of rare earth elements, of which 60% came from China.

Given their rarity, it’s not surprising that gold, silver, and platinum group metals (PGMs) were the least-mined materials in this category. Collectively, these metals represent just 2.3% of the tech and precious metals mined in 2019.

A Material World

Although humans mine and use massive quantities of metals every year, it’s important to put these figures into perspective.

According to Circle Economy, the world consumes 100.6 billion tonnes of materials annually. Of this total, 3.2 billion tonnes of metals produced in 2019 would account for just 3% of our overall material consumption. In fact, the world’s annual production of cement alone is around 4.1 billion tonnes, dwarfing total metal production.

The world’s appetite for materials is growing with its population. As resource-intensive megatrends such as urbanization and electrification pick up the pace, our material pie will only get larger.

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