Rare earths are essential in a wide variety of today’s technologies, from smartphone cameras to defense systems.
China is by far the world’s top producer of rare earths and holds the largest rare earths reserves. The country’s monopoly on the rare earths market has led other nations such as the US, Canada and Australia to incentivize rare earths mining and processing, as well as the production of value-added REE products, in order to bolster their own supply chains.
All in all, the global market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14.9 percent to reach US$14.24 billion by 2030.
US rare earths stocks
The US is at the forefront in the race to secure stable supply of rare earths outside of China. While the nation has vast rare earths reserves and is the second largest global REE producer, the US is severely lacking in processing facilities. The US rare earths stocks looking to change that imbalance offer investors opportunities to leverage the growth potential of this market.
1. MP Materials (NYSE:MP)
Market cap: US$3.261 billion; share price: US$18.34
MP Materials is the largest producer of rare earths outside of China, with a focus on high-purity separated neodymium and praseodymium (NdPr) oxide, a heavy rare earths concentrate, as well as lanthanum and cerium oxides and carbonates.
The company went public in mid-2020 in a US$1.47 billion deal following the purchase of Molycorp’s California-based Mountain Pass mine, the only working US-based rare earths mine and processing facility.
In the third quarter of 2023, MP Materials reached a significant catalyst with the production of separated NdPr. “This is a tremendous milestone for the company and American supply chain independence writ large,” stated James Litinsky, Founder, Chairman and CEO of MP Materials in the press release. Additionally, the company announced its targeting a 50 percent increase in rare earth oxide (REO) production within four years.
2. Energy Fuels (NYSEAMERICAN:UUUU,TSX:EFR)
Market cap: US$1.113 billion; share price: US$9.03
Energy Fuels is best known as a leading US uranium company that supplies uranium products to major nuclear utilities. The company holds three key US-based uranium production centers: the White Mesa mill in Utah (the only conventional uranium mill operating in the country today), and the Nichols Ranch and Alta Mesa in-situ recovery projects in Wyoming and Texas, respectively.
Understanding the importance of REEs for a green energy future, Energy Fuels has been building out its REE production capabilities. The company is constructing a Phase 1 REE separation infrastructure at White Mesa, which will give Energy Fuels total rare earth oxide (TREO) capacity of 2,500 to 5,000 metric tons (MT) per year, including 500 to 1,000 MT per year of NdPr oxide or oxalate. Phase 1 is expected to be completed and fully commissioned by early 2024. The company also plans to advance the design, engineering and permitting of a planned Phase 2 crack-and-leach and REE separation facility with up to 15,000 MT of TREO capacity annually.
Lat year, Energy Fuels acquired the Bahia project in Brazil, which has the potential to supply the mill with 3,000 to 10,000 MT of REE-bearing natural monazite sand annually. This year, the company plans to release results from sonic drilling conducted on Bahia which will serve to inform the completion of an SK-1300 and NI 43-101 compliant mineral resource estimate.
Canadian rare earths stocks
The Canadian government’s Critical Minerals Strategy includes C$3.8 billion in federal funding and ‘focuses on opportunities at every stage along the value chain for Canada’s 31 critical minerals, from exploration to recycling.’ Canada’s critical metals list includes REEs. The government has also earmarked C$7.5 million in funding for the support of the establishment of a REE processing facility in Saskatchewan.
Below are the largest Canadian rare earths stocks by market cap.
1. NioCorp Developments (TSX:NB)
Market cap: C$100.271 million; share price: C$3.92
NioCorp Developments is developing its Nebraska-based Elk Creek project, a pure-play critical minerals project that the company claims hosts the highest-grade primary niobium deposit under development in North America; it is also capable of large-scale scandium production and is the second largest indicated-or-better rare earths resource in the United States.
A 2022 updated feasibility study for Elk Creek includes a new model for mineral reserves and economics. While it does not include any projections on rare earths production, the report does feature a longer expected mine life, higher expected ore grades and tonnages and improved expected project economics for niobium, scandium and titanium production.
At its demonstration-scale processing plant, NioCorp is working to show that it can extract and separate REEs from ore that it expects to mine from the Elk Creek project site. In December 2023, the company announced it had completed its metallurgical testing program, and the results show the ability to produce, at demonstration scale, magnetic rare earth oxides (including NdPr, dysprosium, and terbium) with commercial purities at recovery rates of 92 percent or higher. The results will be used to update NioCorp’s current feasibility study for Elk Creek, including an update to its mineral reserve to include rare earths. The updated feasibility study is expected to be completed in 2024.
2. Aclara Resources (TSX:ARA)
Market cap: C$61.714 million; share price: C$0.51
Aclara Resources is developing its Chilean Penco Module project, which hosts ionic clays rich in heavy rare earths. The company’s goal is to produce a rare earths concentrate through a proposed processing plant using an environmentally friendly extraction process that doesn’t require a tailings facility, uses minimal water consumption and contains no radioactivity in the final product.
Aclara completed its Penco module semi-industrial pilot plant program in September 2023, successfully producing 107 kilograms of wet high-purity heavy REE concentrate from 120 tonnes of ionic clays. The company is looking to Q2 2027 for start full production at the Penco module. More recently, the company announced an initial inferred resource for the Carina module, including an estimated 168 million tonnes grading 1,510 parts per million total rare earth oxides and 477 parts per million desorbable rare earth oxides.
3. Ucore Rare Metals (TSXV:UCU)
Market cap: C$48.85 million; share price: C$0.87
Ucore Rare Metals is engaged in the exploration and separation of rare earths in Canada and the US. The company owns the Bokan-Dotson Ridge rare earths project in Alaska, and is developing a strategic metals complex that will process heavy and light rare earths in Louisiana.
The company’s Ontario-based RapidSX demonstration plant, which is run by its laboratory partner, Kingston Process Metallurgy, was commissioned in late 2023 to test ‘the techno-economic advantages, scale-up, and commercial durability of the RapidSX technology platform” for the separation and production of heavy and light REEs such as praseodymium, neodymium, terbium and dysprosium. This followed the granting of a US$4 million award from the US Department of Defense through its subsidiary Innovation Metals to demonstrate the REE separation technology capabilities of its RapidSX demonstration plant.
In January 2024, Ucore acquired an 80,800 square foot brownfield facility in Alexandria, Louisiana, for the development of its first commercial REE processing facility.
Australian rare earths stocks
Australia is one of the world’s largest rare earths producers and hosts the fifth largest rare earths reserves. The country is home to the biggest non-Chinese rare earths supplier, which is also the largest Australian rare earths stock by market cap.
1. Lynas Rare Earths (ASX:LYC)
Market cap: AU$4.213 billion; share price: AU$6.71
Lynas Rare Earths is the leading separated rare earths producer outside China. The company operates the Mount Weld mine and concentrator in Western Australia and sends mined material for refining and processing at its separation facility in Malaysia.
The company received US$30.4 million in funding from the Pentagon to build a light rare earths processing facility in Texas, and earned another contract to build a heavy rare earths separation facility in the state. The project’s completion will not only benefit Lynas, but also the rare earths industry in both Australia and the US.
In mid-2023, Lynas received AU$20 million in funding from the Australian Government’s Modern Manufacturing Initiative. The grant will partially fund the Apatite Leach Circuit project at Lynas’ Kalgoorlie Rare Earth Processing Facility. The company announced in December that the Kalgoorlie Rare Earths Processing Facility had produced its first feed of material. ‘This is an important milestone and marks the transition from the commissioning phase to first production and ramp up of the facility,’ stated the press release.
2. Iluka Resources (ASX:ILU)
Market cap: AU$1.806 billion; share price: AU$6.31
Iluka Resources is working to develop its Eneabba rare earths refinery in Western Australia with a loan from the Australian government, which has made a significant commitment to increase its global share of the rare earths market through the development of the country’s largely untapped rare earths reserves.
The Australian Government is providing a AU$1.25 billion non-recourse loan to Iluka under the AU$2 billion Critical Minerals Facility administered by Export Finance Australia.
The refinery will be fully integrated for the production of light and heavy separated rare earth oxides and will be capable of processing material from Iluka’s feedstocks, as well as from third-party suppliers. The company expects first production to commence in 2025. The company has an agreement with Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU) for the supply of rare earths concentrate from Northern Minerals’ Browns Range project.
The company’s Wimmera project in Victoria involves the mining and beneficiation of a fine-grained heavy mineral sands orebody in Victoria’s Murray basin for the potential long-term supply of zircon and rare earths. A definitive feasibility study on Wimmera is slated for completion at the end of 2025.
3. Arafura Resources (ASX:ARU)
Market cap: AU$243.542 million; share price: AU$0.16
Arafura Resources is another Australian rare earths company that has secured government funding to support project development. Arafura is developing its Nolans rare earths project in the Northern Territory.
The Nolans project’s definitive feasibility study shows it is highly enriched with neodymium and praseodymium, but contains all of the different rare earths in varying concentrations. Arafura has secured binding offtake agreements with Hyundai Motor (KRX:005380) and Kia (KRX:000270), as well as Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy. Additionally.the company has a non-binding memorandum of understanding with General Electric Company’s (NASDAQ:GE) GE Renewable Energy, to collaborate on the establishment of sustainable rare earths supply chains.
Arafura has plans for Nolans to be a vertically integrated operation with processing facilities on-site. An updated mine report from 2022 states that Nolans has a 38 year life at a capacity of 4,440 MT of NdPr concentrate production per year.
Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.