Prior to 1948, the majority of rare earth minerals came from India and Brazil. However, with the large discovery of monazite in South Africa in the 1950’s, it took the top producer tag from India and Brazil. In the 1960’s, California’s Mountain Pass mine become the global leader in rare earth mineral production.
Today, despite all of these sites continuing to produce, it is undoubtedly China that has taken the lead, producing an incredible 97% of the worlds rare earth metals. The majority of China’s production is in Inner Mongolia and in particular their Bayan Obo mine, which is said to be the largest single deposit of rare earth’s yet found.
China announced in 2010 that it would be reducing the amount of rare earth minerals it exports to 35,000 tons per year up until 2015. This has largely been seen as a political maneuver as the restriction only applies to the export of the raw minerals and not goods derived from them. This has led to many international companies moving manufacturing facilities to China.
It has been known for a long time that the ocean could provide a source for rare earth metals. Hydrothermal vents on the sea floor expel the rare earth elements dissolved within their hot fluids. These expulsions can then form rock sized lumps and sometimes chimneys of ore rich in rare earth metals which builds up in the areas around the vents.
An exploratory survey carried out by a scientific research group, of which REM International scientists were a part of, concluded that over 100 billion tons of rare earth minerals resides in the mud of the Pacific Ocean. Although at depths of up to 6 kilometers, the latest in deepwater robotics technology, pioneered by REM International, means that the minerals can be extracted at relatively low costs and with minimal damage to the environment.
• Camera lenses
• X-rays and PET scanners
• Wind turbines
• Communication systems
• Precision guidance systems
• Water purification
• Space satellites
• Solar panels
• Electric and hybrid automobiles
• Electronic screens (TVs, cell phones, monitors etc)
• Computer memory components (RAM and hard drives)
• Light bulbs