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Raw Materials

China's share in rare earths mining declines amid falling demand

While retaining its dominance in the mining of rare earth elements, China's share in global production has decreased steadily in recent years. A fresh study showing a drastic drop in prices has shocked the industry.

In 2013, China accounted for 92.1 percent of globally produced high-tech rare earth oxides, Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) said in a study released Wednesday.

While the percentage was still staggering, it showed a decline from 2010 levels when the Asian nation covered 97.6 percent of worldwide demand.

The Hanover-base institute said 4.2 percent of rare earth elements were produced in the United States last year, with another 2.3 percent coming from Russia. The oxides in question have been of crucial importance for the making of mobile phones, flat-screen TVs and wind power components.

Less demand, lower prices

But with global growth weak in recent years in the wake of the financial crisis, rare earth oxides production had decreased markedly, the BGR said. While some 133,500 tons were mined back in 2009, production slowed to 90,500 tons last year.

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The study mentioned a drastic fall in prices in 2011 which had subsequently led to a stronger global search for other rare earth deposits outside of China. The BGR spoke of 440 new deposits discovered in the effort since then. It added that the reserves known to date would last for another 285 years based on current industry output levels.

China has meanwhile tried hard to put a halt to prices dropping even further and generating more demand for rare earth elements worldwide. The package of measures taken includes a crackdown on smuggling.

"According to the most recent estimates, it's believed that in 2010 and 2011 alone up to 35,000 tons each left the country illegally," BGR expert Harald Elsner said in a press release.

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