What are rare earth elements?
The term rare earths is somewhat misleading as the elements are not particularly rare in nature. What is rare is for them to be present in such abundance that they can be economically exploited.
The rare earths are a moderately abundant group of 17 elements comprising the 15 lanthanides, scandium, and yttrium. The lanthanides comprise a group of 15 elements with atomic numbers 57 through 71 as shown in the periodic table below. In order of atomic number (atomic symbol) the lanthanides are: lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), neodymium (Nd), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), terbium (Tb), dysprosium (Dy), holmium (Ho), erbium (Er), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), and lutetium (Lu).
Why do we need them?
Rare earth elements have become the fundamental building blocks of our modern economy. Rapid technological advances have resulted in rare earths becoming necessary components of hundreds of advanced technological products from electric vehicles to renewable energy, humanoid robotics, medical applications and digital devices.
Neodymium (Nd) and Praseodymium (Pr) are two of the most high-value and important rare earth elements – both critical to powering NdFeB permanent magnets needed for the conversation of electrical energy into motion.
Currently, the supply of rare earths is dominated by China, which is responsible for around 65 per cent of primary supply and 90 per cent of global processing capacity.
Capitalising on a global supply deficit
Fueled by the electrification trend, global demand for permanent magnets used in electric vehicles and wind turbines is forecast to growth at a compound annual growth rate of 7.8% in the next decade.
Electric drivetrains and wind energy is expected to represent 59% of rare earth oxide demand for magnets by 2032, with electric vehicle demand to growth significant as governments ban the sale of the traditional internal combustion engine. In addition, wind power has been identified as the fastest growing renewable energy technology by the International Renewable Energy Agency with installed capacity to grow around two times through to 2030.
Other demand sources for these magnets include the growing areas of humanoid robotics, consumer electronics, industrial applications and air-conditioning.
As a result, it is expected that the demand for rare earth elements – in particular NdPr – will exceed current production rates by 2025, resulting in a sizeable supply gap growing to 2032, representing around 13 times the projected NdPr oxide output of Yangibana. New and more diversified supply sources will be vital, with long project development lead times raising questions around the ability of supply ramp up.
With first concentrate from Yangibana expected in Q2 2025, the project is well-timed to start meeting this increase in demand.