REPORT: THE RARE EARTH ELEMENTS INDUSTRY IN CANADA ─ SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE – by Standing Committee on Natural Resources (June 2014)

Standing Committee on Natural Resources – JUNE 2014 – 41st PARLIAMENT, SECOND SESSION (Government of Canada report)


In November 2013, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources (hereafter “the Committee”) commenced a study on the rare earth elements (REE) industry in Canada. The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities related to the development of REE in Canada and around the world. This document summarizes witness testimony presented to the Committee during the course of four meetings.

It is organized according to the following topics: background information on REE and their applications; REE global market, including the role of China in rare earths supply; opportunities and challenges of developing rare earth resources in Canada with a brief overview of current exploration activity; and, ongoing initiatives that support Canada’s REE industry.


A. What Are Rare Earth Elements?

Rare earth elements (REE)1 are a group of 17 metals (including scandium and yttrium), which exhibit similar properties and occur in many of the same mineral deposits. According to Christine Villemure, Director General at Natural Resources Canada, contrary to what the term “rare earths” may suggest, REE are relatively abundant in the earth’s crust.2 However, REE seldom occur in concentrations that are economically exploitable; instead, they are found together with other elements and as a result, are difficult to separate for extraction.3

B. Major Uses and Applications of Rare Earth Elements

During the course of the study, the Committee learned that rare earths are essential in many applications, and therefore affect a range of industries in the Canadian and global economies.4 Ms. Villemure told the Committee that “there is a dependency on [REE]” some of which “are absolutely essential…to develop clean technologies…and various
electronic applications.”

To illustrate this point, she listed some examples of high-technology goods that require REE: “Hybrid vehicles, rechargeable batteries, mobile phones, LCD screens, laptops, wind turbines, medical imaging equipment, radar systems, catalytic converters, alloys that are more corrosion-resistant.”5 Furthermore, Alexander King, Director at the Critical Materials Institute in the U.S., explained that “rare earth elements in general have very unique properties” and that “there are no easy substitutes for them in most of their applications.”6

Additionally, the Committee learned that certain rare earths are used significantly in the production of high-performance magnets, also referred to as iron-baron magnets, which are then used in a wide range of products.7 According to Anton Chakhmouradian, Professor at the University of Manitoba, …out of some 70,000 tonnes of neodymium-iron-boron magnets that are manufactured every year, only about 15% are actually used to manufacture traction motors, wind turbines, and these kinds of things, with the remainder going into more mundane products ranging anywhere from magnetic resonance imaging to air conditioners, loudspeakers, hard drives, compact drives, and so on.8

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