Production currently concentrated in China and Myanmar. Dysprosium particularly important for wind power and e-mobility.
The rare earth elements can be divided into light and heavy representatives. However, the exact classification differs depending on the source. A common classification is based on their atomic number in the periodic table. In principle, the representatives of the heavy rare earth elements (HREE) are significantly rarer and, therefore, more expensive. Currently, the most important sources of HREEs are so-called ion-adsorption clays in southern China and neighboring Myanmar, accounting for around 16 percent of the world’s rare earth oxide production. This country concentration is a crucial reason for the criticality of individual elements in this group, such as dysprosium, which the U.S. Department of Energy (PDF)sees as one of the most critical elements for energy supply in the medium term because it is needed for wind turbines and e-cars, for example. The German raw materials agency DERA warned in a study in 2011 of an eventual critical supply situation already. DERA argued that although HREE deposits have already been discovered in other countries, including the U.S., they are only partially mined due to inefficiency.
Goiás, Brazil – Hotspot for Heavy Rare Earths?
This country concentration could now change. Chilean mining company Aclara Resources, specializing in ion adsorption stone, has published test drilling results from its Carina project in the Brazilian state of Goiás in a press release (PDF). According to the company, the results are promising. According to Barry Murphy, the company’s chief operating officer, the area tested contains significant quantities of dysprosium and terbium. Although much further exploration work remains to be done at Carina, the composition of the clays is a reason for confidence, Barry added. Aclaras uses an ammonium sulfate solution to dissolve the HREE from the clays. The clays are suitable for this, Barry said.
Besides Aclaras, other companies have also identified Brazil as a possible source of SSE. Canadian mining company Appia Rare Earth & Uranium had just signed an agreement in March to acquire 70 percent of another project, also in Goiás. Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy (PDF) granted permission back in 2015 to Brazilian mining company Serra Verde to explore ionic adsorption stone in the Minaçu region of Goiás. The first production steps are scheduled to start before the end of 2023.
Brazil’s rare earth potential is also well-known outside the HREE spectrum. For example, U.S. mining company Energy Fuels secured over 15,000 hectares in eastern Brazil in 2022 with a production potential of 1,500 to 5,000 tons of rare earth oxides annually. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (PDF), Brazil has one of the world’s largest rare earth resources, estimated at 21 million metric tons, just under half that of market leader China. However, only a small number of deposits of the critical minerals are being mined in Brazil. In 2022, the South American country mined just 80 tons, compared to China’s estimated 210,000 tons.
Photo: iStock/libre de droit