What are Rare Earth Elements?
REE are a group of 17 metallic elements with similar physical and chemical properties that occur together
in the periodic table. Sixteen of these occur in nature and are typically found in varying proportions in
the same ore deposits. REE are vital to industrialized societies worldwide as they are used in a range of
products, including nuclear reactor components, cell phones, magnets, camera lenses, and batteries.
During the last 15 years, REE production and processing have centered in China, which by 2010 provided
95 to 97 percent of the world’s supply. When China reduced REE exports by 40 percent in 2010, as
compared to 2009, world demand exceeded the supply. This inspired heightened REE exploration and development
by other countries to meet demand and offset the elevated price. Molycorp’s Mountain Pass Mine in California
reopened in 2010 and increased the United States’ supply for a short time. However, its 2015 closure and
China’s stronghold on global supply has continued driving interest in securing REE resources to maintain U.S. national security.
World Deposits and Reserves
The largest known REE deposits occur in China, Australia, and North America, with much smaller reserves found
in India, Brazil, Malaysia, and South Africa. Production has been dominated by China, with additional production
from Australia, India, Malaysia, Russia, and Thailand. China's reserves are the largest. Estimates project that
China has the largest percentage worldwide of REE reserves at about 36 percent, compared to the United States
at about 13 percent. The Commonwealth of Independent States (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine) controls about 19 percent,
followed by Australia with more than 5 percent and India with 3 percent.
Current U.S. Production
As of June 2016, there is no mining or production of REE in the United States. According to the U.S.
Geological Survey, deposits of REE-bearing ore exist in California (Molycorp Mountain Pass mine),
Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, New York, Alaska, and Wyoming.
Mining was in the planning stages for one major Wyoming REE deposit in the Bear Lodge Mountains in Crook County.
Unfortunately, weak market conditions and a lengthy permitting process caused Rare Element Resources, Ltd. to
temporarily suspend the project as of January 2016. The potential exists for the occurrence of additional REE
deposits across the state.