Mexico’s Ministry of Economy will begin funding explorations projects to locate deposits of rare earth metals, a group of elements of increasing importance in variety of industries including green technology, defense systems, consumer electronics, and high-tech applications.
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According to country’s Geological Survey (SGM), global demand for rare earths in 2016 will hit 160,000 tons, with China expected to produce up to 80% of that demand, which leaves room for other suppliers, The Economista reports (in Spanish).
At the moment about 95% of the world’s rare earths come from the Asian giant, which also imposes export quotas.
Only two rare-earth mines currently exist in other countries. One of them is Lynas Corp’s (ASX:LYC) Mount Weld mine in Australia, and the other one in California, US, owned by Molycorp (NYSE:MCP).
End to China’s monopoly?
China did not always enjoy a virtual monopoly on REE production. The majority of the 17 rare earth elements were sourced from placer deposits in India and Brazil in the late 1940s.
During the 1950s, South Africa mined most of the world’s REEs from large veins of rare earth-bearing monazite.
From the 1960s to 1980s, rare earths were supplied mainly from the US.
China has been cracking down on the industry for years to curb illegal mining, smuggling and environmental devastation, but progress has been slow. Despite imposing export quotas, shutting down small mines and forcing industry mergers, the country’s rare earth landscape remains fragmented and suffers from a lack of global competitiveness due to weak research and development.