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Bastnaesite, monazite, and xenotime are currently the most important rare-earth minerals. Bastnaesite occurs as a primary mineral in carbonatites. Monazite and xenotime also can be found in primary deposits but are recovered principally from heavy-mineral placers that are mined for titanium or tin. Each of these minerals has a different composition of the 15 rare-earth elements.
World resources of economically exploitable rare-earth oxides (REO) are estimated at 93.4 million metric tons in place, composed of 93 percent in primary deposits and 7 percent in placers. The average mineral composition is 83 percent bastnaesite, 13 percent monazite, and 4 percent of 10 other minerals. Annual global production is about 67,000 metric tons of which 41 percent is from placers and 59 percent is from primary deposits; mining methods consist of open pits (94 percent) and dredging (6 percent). This output could be doubled if the operations that do not currently recover rare earths would do so.
Resources are more than sufficient to meet the demand for the predictable future. About 52 percent of the world's REO resources are located in China. Ranking of other countries is as follows: Namibia (22 percent), the United States (15 percent), Australia (6 percent), and India (3 percent); the remainder is in several other countries. Conversely, 38 percent of the production is in China, 33 percent in the United States, 12 percent in Australia, and 5 percent each in Malaysia and India. Several other countries, including Brazil, Canada, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, make up the remainder. Markets for rare earths are mainly in the metallurgical, magnet, ceramic, electronic, chemical, and optical industries. Rare earths improve the physical and rolling properties of iron and steel and add corrosion resistance and strength to structural members at high temperatures. Samarium and neodymium are used in lightweight, powerful magnets for electric motors. Cerium and yttrium increase the density and heat resistance of sintered ceramics. Yttrium and gadolinium contribute to the efficiency of electronic switches and sensors. Cerium improves the effectiveness of catalysts in the petroleum and automotive industries. Cerium oxides speed glass melting and are used to polish glass by chemical, rather than mechanical, means. Cerium, europium, terbium, and yttrium, as phosphoric compounds, promote the vivid colors of television screens. Consumption of rare earths is expected to grow by about 2.6 percent per year.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
International strategic minerals inventory summary report; rare-earth oxides