At the Perth AusIMM Critical Minerals conference held in June this year, my esteemed colleague Dudley Kingsnorth presented updated forecasts for the near-term future of the global rare-earth market. Some of the details were recently reported by InvestorIntel. Prof. Kingsnorth’s forecasts always command attention; I would like to offer my own perspective on what we might expect in the latter half of the present decade.
No nation has ever industrialized faster than the Peoples’ Republic of China is now in the process of doing. But even so, and even though we admire China’s breathtaking industrial (re)evolution, common sense tells us that every so often, even the champion runner must take a breather to recover his equilibrium so he can continue, or realize that he cannot continue the pace (note: I’m an old-timer, and I can’t abide political correctness in the written word, so I won’t alternate 'he' and 'she' or substitute some form of 'person' in common phrases). This is finally what’s happening in China. Optimists will say that China is taking a breather, to see just where the new base line of its GDP growth should reside. Pessimists will tell you that the game is over, and that China cannot keep expanding forever. As usual the reality lies somewhere in between.
I emphasize the state of China’s economy, because in the case of the rare-earth total supply chain, China is most of the global ball game. Certainly for the rest of this decade, as China goes, so goes the rare-earth market. China, as of this writing still produces 95% of the world’s rare-earths supply and China, as of this writing, still consumes more than 75% of the world’s rare earth supply. Consumption here does NOT mean domestic internal use; it means that China adds the majority of the final value to its rare-earth supply and even that is usually in the form of components of more complex assemblies (vacuum cleaners, automobile components, or wind turbine generators, for example).
It is becoming clear that China likely does NOT possess the world’s largest resources and reserves of the rare earths. That title, so my colleague and TMR co-founder Gareth Hatch informs me, may well belong to Greenland or Canada. Let’s call them together the North Atlantic Mineral Resource Zone (NAMRZ). That said, China certainly possesses the world’s largest (by volume production capacity) rare-earths total supply chain, and its very large reserves of rare earths could supply the world’s demand for centuries. The rare earths in the NAMRZ are not only undeveloped, but they are in a zone that currently does not have enough access to capital or technology domestically, to create a total rare-earths supply chain of the magnitude of the one in China.
The ideal solution for the NAMRZ would be to put in place as much value addition as possible, so as to capture the most benefit from its vast resources of ALL of the rare earths. The business model of Innovation Metals Corp. (IMC), co-founded by Gareth and to which I am a technical advisor, accomplishes just that. IMC would reduce the tens of thousands of tonnes of mixed rare-earth concentrates that could be produced in the zone from hundreds of thousands of tonnes of mineral concentrates, to a few thousand tons of rare-earth chemicals, and ultimately metallic forms, which are much more valuable and profitable.