Not so rare earths: A quarterly (and yearly) perspective

Geologically speaking, rare earth elements aren’t really rare at all. 

The US Geological Survey places rare earth elements (REEs) in the same order of magnitude as common metals like copper and zinc. Yet rare earths are not as scarce as metals such as platinum or gold.

They are a group of 17 elements growing in importance given their strategic applications and unique catalytic, metallurgical, nuclear, electrical, magnetic, and luminescent properties. REEs are used in everything spanning lasers and military equipment to being key components in electric vehicles, batteries, and other electrical appliances crucial to achieving net zero carbon emissions.

The market overall bottomed out in mid-2023 having rocketed in 2022 when prices hit their highest in a decade. Last year, prices declined after China increased production and a slower-than-expected upturn in its economy led to uncertainty around its eventual recovery.

This has been an important characteristic of the market. China dominates the supply chain, accounting for some 70% of global ore extraction and 90% of ore processing. In December 2023, China announced a ban on the exports of technologies to make REE magnets.

In January this year, mining executives and industry sources polled by Mining.com.au agreed while China prohibiting the exports of its industry knowledge is nothing to be concerned about, questions remain on where domestic rare earths production and downstream processing opportunities will originate.

On the back of its ban, the federal government announced it will inject $22 million into several research projects to find alternative solutions and develop REE projects.  

Such is the importance of rare earths, the government will also back Arafura (ASX:ARU) to further develop its Nolans Project – a rare earth mine 125km north of Alice Springs – with an $840 million loans and grants package.

Market magnet

Throughout 2023, a climate of rising supply and diminishing demand translated into lower prices overall, which has since flowed into Q1 2024.

Decreasing demand from two of the biggest downstream applications for rare earths — EVs and wind turbines — amid inflationary pressures and weakening global consumer confidence also lowered demand for smartphones and other appliances requiring rare earths.

As such, downstream users became hesitant to undertake restocking purchases, adding futher pressure on prices for magnet rare earths — neodymium, dysprosium, terbium, and praseodymium.

This lower demand for EVs in 2023 had a negative effect on demand growth for magnets in which there was a supply overshoot across the EV supply chain. Market analysts however, forecast that EV sales penetration is due to increase by 2030.

The market began to rebound in late August through mid-September 2023, coinciding with a temporary production halt in Myanmar. In early November, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced the tightening of rare earths export controls and the market found itself in a lower price environment.

Analysts now forecast the growing supply surplus that characterised last year is likely to be more or less cleared by the end of 2024, closing the once widening supply-demand chasm.

Of all the rare earths, REE magnets are key for EVs and the broader decarbonisation markets. They are also widely utilised in the defence and military sectors. The super-magnet suite of rare earths comprises neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, terbium, and samarium.

Some analysts suggest prices are poised to rise later 2024 in line with a projected upswing change in demand for EVs and wind power while China pulls back expanding output quotas.

Considering the price in China of praseodymium oxide – one of the most widely used rare earth elements – fell 34% in 2023, while terbium and neodymium oxide also had a horrid run, suggestions of a higher price environment would be a welcomed one.

Rare earths, common sentiment

When OD6 Metals (ASX:OD6) Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Brett Hazelden spoke to this news service in January, Australia’s need to develop more of its own technologies and not stay middle of the road was a key point raised.

“The question really is where is all the supply going to come from and where will it be processed to a final product? Currently China controls and manipulates the rare earth market which is also why we are seeing China taking over the EV car market and controlling supply.

Will the new supply come from mines in other countries backed by China processing technology and money or Western countries like Australia and the US using newly developed technology and downstream factories? Maybe the answer is who can produce the most cost effective EV.”

ABx Group (ASX:ABX) CEO Dr Mark Cooksey also believes Australia is in strong position to cater for the world’s needs. And much of that has to do with clay-hosted REE deposits, of which ABx has within its portfolio.

“Particularly in the case of the clays, I think it’s feasible that they could be producing in the next 3, 4, or 5 years. The hard rock ones tend to have a longer timeframe, but there’s some projects that are already more advanced.”

Price pain easing?

So where are rare earth prices currently?

Strategic Metals Invest lists the recent per kilogram prices of 9 strategic metals, as well as their price movements up until 28 March 2024. These include dysprosium, neodymium, praseodymium, and terbium, as well as in-demand technology metals gallium, germanium, hafnium, indium, and rhenium.

Strategic Metals Invest is a sales and marketing partner of Tradium, which was founded in 1999 in Germany and is today a global dealer for technology metals and rare earth elements. 

The global rare earths dealer prices dysprosium at about $406 per kilogram, which year-to-date (YTD) is down almost 32% but since January 2020 is trading 17.57% higher.

The price of neodymium is almost $89/kg, also down YTD by 21.64% but since January 2020 is 36.46% higher.

Praseodymium is about $92, which is a 26.29% increase since January 2020 but YTD it has slipped 18.53%.

Terbium is $1,448, which is more than 34% down YTD but since January 2020 it has rocketed almost 117%.

For technology metals the current price of gallium is slightly higher so far this year and at about $787/kg is 164.05% higher than in January 2020. Germanium is about $2,901, which is a 41.84% increase since the start of 2020, while indium is $571, just over 81% higher than January that same year.

Forecast for 2024

Looking ahead, while some analysts believe there does not seem to be many market-shaking catalysts on the horizon there are some factors poised to have an effect on the industry.

Market analysts will be monitoring the stability of supply from Myanmar to maintain a balance for heavy rare earths such as dysprosium, a common component in EVs and wind turbines. Myanmar is one of the world’s 2 largest sources of heavy rare earths (the other is China) and both continue to play an important role given the significance of heavy REEs in green technologies.

Australia’s ongoing support in advancing domestic mining projects through aforementioned funding and tax incentives, and similar incentives offered by the US as it continues to offer to develop its rare earths value chain through the Inflation Reduction Act, are contributing positive factors analysts continue to monitor.

Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King said the Australian government is investing in the Arafura project to ensure the country can capitalise on its vast deposits of rare minerals.

The Nolans Project is on track to become Australia’s first combined rare earths mine and refinery that will help secure Australia’s position as a renewable energy ‘superpower’.

Yet there are plenty more in Australia that will need to come online.

For example, OD6 Metals recently raised capital to progress its Splinter Rock Rare Earth Project in Western Australia towards development, including an infill drilling program at the Inside Centre prospect, as well as extensional drilling targeting Mineral Resource Estimate (MRE) growth.

Managing Director Brett Hazelden says the project has the potential to be a ‘world-class’ asset.

Drilling and geological analysis at its flagship Splinter Rock has shown widespread, thick, high-grade clay hosted REE deposits that extend over hundreds of square kilometres. Metallurgical testing using hydrochloric acid to leach the rare earths have resulted in positive REE recoveries with optimisation ongoing.

The company aims to delineate and define economic resources and reserves of REEs, in particular neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium, which can be developed into a future revenue generating mine.

“Our exploration results at Rubble Mount are outstanding and expand the Rubble Mound high-grade zone more than expected. ABx’s distinctively high proportion of dysprosium and terbium with high extraction rates under relatively neutral conditions is rare

ABx is another ASX-listed mining company advancing a significant REEs project. The company expects to update the Rubble Mound project’s resource in April 2024, after receiving more ‘high-grade’ rare earths results from the latest drill program. 

CEO Dr Mark Cooksey says the company is tapping the experience and knowhow of its team to find and develop a unique Tasmanian type of rare earth resource. It is aiming to develop a low-cost method of extracting rare earths, while also improving the land.

He says the sustainable production from Tasmania can ease the global shortage of these critically important rare earths and show the world that it can be done to a high standard.

“Our exploration results at Rubble Mount are outstanding and expand the Rubble Mound high-grade zone more than expected. ABx’s distinctively high proportion of dysprosium and terbium with high extraction rates under relatively neutral conditions is rare.”

Write to Adam Orlando at Mining.com.au

Images: OD6 & ABx
Author Image
Written By Adam Orlando
Mining.com.au Editor-in-Chief Adam Orlando has more than 20 years’ experience in the media having held senior roles at various publications, including as Asia-Pacific Sector Head (Mining) at global newswire Acuris (formerly Mergermarket). Orlando has worked in newsrooms around the world including Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and Sydney.

MTM launches new REE exploration in WA

After snapping up a new niobium and rare earth elements (REE) project and bolstering its balance sheet by $7 million, MTM Critical Minerals (ASX:MTM) has launched fresh exploration in Western Australia. 

The $9.19 million market capitalisation company has started reprocessing available geophysical survey data over the new project area and assessing options for the collection of new magnetic and gravity geophysical data to help generate drill targets. 

At the same time, MTM is launching negotiations around heritage agreements with local Native Title holders to obtain access to its new tenements. 

The exploration and negotiation work follows MTM’s acquisition of privately held Flash Metals, which holds an option to exclusively negotiate the rights to the Flash Joule Heating technology developed by Rice University. 

As part of the acquisition deal, MTM paid Flash 100 million MTM shares and 50 million quoted options, as well as 37 million performance rights and 15 million unquoted options exercisable at $0.15 and expiring on 30 December 2026. 

The performance rights will vest equally across 3 milestones relating to drilling intercepts and resource definition across the new tenements. 

MTM says the new project lies in the West Arunta region of WA, immediately adjacent to ground held by fellow ASX-listed explorers WA1 Resources (ASX:WA1) and Encounter Resources (ASX:ENR).

According to MTM Managing Director Lachlan Reynolds, the new project provides the company with ‘compelling’ exploration opportunities in an under-explored terrane.

“We are very pleased to start exploration on our ground in the West Arunta province, where there is an opportunity to discover new niobium-rare earth deposits associated with carbonatites. 

There has been limited exploration in the area, so collection of basic exploration datasets like detailed geophysics could reveal quality targets near to the emerging mineralised carbonatite projects identified by both WA1 and Encounter.”

He adds that WA1’s exploration success in the region bodes well for the potential of the new project.

For reference, WA1’s share price has exploded from around $0.15 in October 2022 to nearly $11 on 19 February 2024 following its success in the West Arunta region. 

“The West Arunta region is one of Australia’s critical metal exploration hotspots, with over $60m in exploration expenditure collectively invested in the district by a number of ASX companies,” Reynolds says. 

MTM’s new licences in the West Arunta area cover 140km-square in an area of ‘very limited’ historical exploration. The company says its recent compilation of exploration data for the area shows that there has been no drilling on the ground in the area. 

MTM launched a $7 million capital raise in January 2024 to fund its REE exploration work.

Images: MTM Critical Minerals
Author Image
Written By Joshua Smith
Joshua Smith has years of experience in the media sector, having worked as a markets reporter, features writer, and editor since completing a Communications and Journalism degree and a Creative Writing degree. Josh is an avid board game fan and a self-professed coffee snob.

Asra continues WA rare earths and lithium journey

Asra Minerals (ASX:ASR) has unearthed ‘large’ rare earth elements (REE) and lithium anomalies at its Kookynie West Project in Western Australia. 

The company says the anomalies have been flagged following a geochemical sampling program, with multiple of the lithium anomalies interpreted to be up to 5km long within a ‘vastly’ underexplored area. 

Results also demonstrate an initial 4km long target corridor for REE and scandium mineralisation. The company notes results also uphold its exploration strategy to identify and prove up critical mineral projects in the underexplored regions of Western Australia’s Goldfields region. 

Together, both sets of anomalies are aligned with geological structures and contacts interpreted from magnetics, which will be the focus of ongoing geochemical sampling to cover more of the projects ‘large’, underexplored areas.  

Managing Director Rob Longley says the company’s field teams remain busy across all of its lithium, rare earth, and gold projects in Western Australia. 

“This area has never received much exploration attention and yet it is in highly prospective geology, located only 70km from Delta Lithium’s Mt Ida Project, which hosts a 12.7Mt lithium JORC resource. 

Discoveries all start with the right geology and the right exploration techniques, applied by well supported and experienced exploration teams, which is why I’m excited about the results we have received to date.”

Today (13 February 2024)  Asra also reports it received a research and development (R&D) refund of $527,737 in late January for the Yttria REE Project in Asra’s Northern Hub of projects in the Leonora region. 

The refund was granted through the Australian Taxation Office’s R&D tax incentive program for work conducted during calendar year 2022 at Yttria, which qualifies under the scheme. 

Asra Minerals is a multi-commodity focused explorer targeting a growing gold, lithium, and REE portfolio in the premier Goldfields region of Western Australia. 

As of 30 December 2023, Asra had $2.849 million cash and cash equivalents at hand, according to its latest quarterly report.

Write to Adam Drought at Mining.com.au

Images: Asra Minerals
Author Image
Written By Adam Drought
Born and raised in the UK, Adam is a sports fanatic with an interest in Rugby League and UFC/MMA. When not training in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Adam attends Griffith University where he is completing his final year of a Communication & Journalism degree.

Red Mountain launches next moves at Monjebup

Red Mountain Mining (ASX:RMX) has begun a detailed grid clay sampling program at its Monjebup Rare Earths Project in Western Australia. 

The $6.68 million market capitalisation company says this second phase sampling program is anticipated to generate rare earth element (REE) bearing clay targets around the anomalous orthogneisses with enriched REE. 

At each site, a hand auger will be used to access the clays at depths of more than 0.4m and up to 1 kilogram of clay collected. The 4 sites include Stockwell Road, Chillinup Road, Dump Road, and Dump Road extension. 

Red Mountain says this program will support generating targets for follow-up aircore drilling. The drill plan will be formulated once the assay results have been received and analysed. 

This news comes after Red Mountain completed an initial phase of due diligence and infill sampling which revealed source rocks with more than 1,000 parts per million total rare earth oxide in 4 specific zones, as well as confirmed anomalous REE within soils in 3 locations. 

Red Mountain Mining is a mineral explorer and developer focused on its portfolio of critical minerals including lithium, rare earths, and gold in the US and Australia. 

As of 31 December 2023, the company had $665,000 cash and cash equivalents at hand, according to its latest quarterly report.

Write to Aaliyah Rogan at Mining.com.au      

Images: Red Mountain Mining
Author Image
Written By Aaliyah Rogan
Relocated from the East Coast in New Zealand to Queensland Australia, Aaliyah is a fervent journalist who has a passion for storytelling. When Aaliyah isn’t writing stories, she is either spending time with friends and family or down at the beach.