Sector Allocations and Supply Chain Considerations for Rare Earth Elements

M. Nkiawete, R. Vander Wal
Penn State University,
United States

Keywords: rare earth element, market sectors, permanent magnets, global sources, coal resources


End uses for rare earth elements include catalysts, magnets, metallurgy, batteries, glass and ceramics additives, phosphors, and polishing compounds. These applications span health care, consumer appliances, electronics, lighting, communications, defense technologies, oil refining, consumer transportation and electric power generation. Presently valued at USD 5.3 billion in 2021, the rare-earth metals market is projected to grow to USD 9.6 billion by 2026, at a 12.3% CAGR. Expected main drivers of this growth are catalysts, permanent magnet and polishing applications. Updated values are presented for REE market sector allocations. While percentage allocations change minimally, absolute tonnage, reflecting demand exhibit marked increases, most notably for catalysts, magnets and phosphors. Historical trends for global and U.S. REE consumption consistently reflect these trends. Relative to global REE product sectors, the U.S. has a disproportionate share of catalysts while lacking significant battery or magnet production by USGS reports. Growth in mature market sectors is driven by the general economy, thus accounting for the demand fluctuations for cerium, lanthanum, and yttrium. Oppositely growth in newer market sectors is driven by policy, economic incentives and technology. Currently EV traction motors and wind turbine generators are driving the high (8-10%) growth in the permanent magnet sector. These areas are identified as promising opportunities for manufacturing industries using the REO concentrate from potential domestic resources. Given the tight coupling between REE supplies and growing demand and amidst concerns for diversified supply chains, coal and coal byproducts are promising new domestic resources. Assessment by NETL has shown vast potential REE reserves in coal deposits and the clays associated with these deposits. Usage does not reflect economic value. A prime example are catalysts versus magnets. Catalysts (automotive and FCC) account for ~ 20% of TREO use while magnets, at ~ 29% TREO account for well over 2/3 of the REE overall product value. The economic impact of REEs is vast, accounting for $274 billion in the U.S. and up to a trillion $US globally. But with the U.S. 100% reliant upon REE imports, the supply chain value captured domestically will continue to decrease as China and other countries build up their own integrated supply chains, based on their domestic resources. The economic impact of REE end products and technologies in the U.S. is large, accounting for over $274 billion in economic activity and an estimated 100,000 jobs, notwithstanding that refined REEs are not produced in the U.S.; instead, the U.S. is totally import reliant. If domestic resources were available, the net imported value of TREOs could be captured domestically along with mining and processing jobs. Additionally, a domestic and stable supply would provide the foundation for a vast array of manufacturing technologies – magnifying several-fold the refined REE net value.