Canada primed for rare earth revival – by Sarah Treleaven (CIM Magazine – September 16, 2019)

As China threatens to halt exports of vital rare earth metals, some Canadian companies believe that their time has come

As the U.S.-China trade war heats up, with U.S. president Donald Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping placing tariffs on an increasing amount of goods, even while occasionally offering a more conciliatory appeal for new talks, a small but cautiously optimistic group of miners are wondering if this impasse might finally herald their time in the spotlight.

The focus of that spotlight is rare earths, a group of elements that are increasingly in demand because they make up crucial components of cell phones, electric vehicles, rechargeable batteries and medical devices, as well as many other industrial and military applications. The manufacturing of permanent magnets represents the single most important end use for rare earths, accounting for almost a quarter of total consumption.

Major reserves can be found in China, Australia, Brazil, Russia and Malaysia, though China currently produces close to 90 per cent of the global supply. (The only other meaningful producer is the Lynas Corporation in Australia.)

But China is now threatening to restrict exports, part of a comprehensive response to American tariffs, and that could leave the world scrambling. Because of this uncertainty, some miners in Canada are exploring projects – particularly in British Columbia and the Yukon – that could hopefully create a permanent place for Canadian rare earths.

Canadians are well positioned to move into this market. While not a current producer, Canada has significant rare earths deposits and hosts almost one-third of the world’s most advanced rare earth projects according to Technology Metals Research. Importantly, Canada has high concentrations of in-demand “heavy” rare earths, which are particularly useful in clean-energy applications.

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