Opinion: Australia is on the frontline in battle for rare earths – by Jennifer Hewett (Australian Financial Review – August 15, 2023)


Australia is in the race to develop alternative supplies to China’s dominance of the supply and processing of rare earths that are critical to the global economy and to national security. But the West is far behind. How quickly can this be done?

Rare earths aren’t actually that rare. Nor are the 17 rare earth elements in the periodic table worth much in isolation, with some of purely nominal value. Current estimates of the global market value for rare earths are somewhere between $US8 billion-$US10 billion ($12.4 billion-$15.5 billion).

Yet some of these rare earths are necessary for the production of everything from cell phones to advanced robots, electric vehicles to wind turbines, to a myriad of defence applications.

That’s why rare earths, though small in volume, are a key subset of the various critical minerals only belatedly being acknowledged as vital for both economic and national security reasons. The problem is that China has spent the last few decades making itself the dominant global supplier of rare earths and the near monopoly supplier of the magnets and metals produced by processing rare earths.

Until recently, Western countries, including Australia, were content to let China master and then maintain control over the complex technology and advanced chemical operations and skills required for downstream processing of most critical minerals, including rare earths.

For the rest of this article: https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/australia-is-on-the-frontline-in-battle-for-rare-earths-20230815-p5dwpl