USGS Publishes 2011 Estimate Of Global Rare-Earth Reserves

by Gareth Hatch on February 26, 2011 · 13 comments

in News Analysis, Rare Earths, Tools & Metrics

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In January 2011 the, US Geological Survey (USGS) updated its Mineral Commodity Summary for rare-earth oxides (REOs). There were a couple of significant changes to the reserve-estimate data, specifically for Australia and for China, which are worth noting.

The figure below shows the updated USGS REO reserve estimates for 2011:

The next figure shows the REO reserve estimates from 2010:

The estimate for Australia has been reduced from 5.4 million metric tonnes (Mt) of REO to 1.6 Mt REO, as a result of a change in the data that the USGS uses for this estimate. It is now based on the Economic Demonstrated Resource (EDR) estimate for REOs, published by Geoscience Australia, which has a narrower definition of recoverable resources / reserves than in the past. Going forward, the USGS will use Geoscience Australia’s published EDR number for REOs.

The 2011 numbers for China see a significant increase in the reserve estimate, from 36.0 Mt in 2010 to 55.0 Mt of REO in 2011. In 2009 the number was 27.0 Mt so there has been a steady increase in the numbers for China on the past couple of years. The 2011 number is greater than the 43.0 Mt estimate that the USGS was using as recently as 2002, before dropping the figure back down to 27.0 Mt until last year.

Note that my total numbers for 2010 and 2011 are slightly more precise than the rounded totals that the USGS uses in its mineral commodity summaries for these years (i.e. 99 Mt (USGS) vs 98.6 Mt (me) for 2010 and 110 Mt (USGS) vs 113.6 Mt (me) for 2011).

After seeing the new data I put in a call to Daniel Cordier, the USGS minerals specialist for REOs, to ask about the new numbers. Daniel said that USGS is continually improving and updating its data-gathering and evaluation methods, and that the latest numbers are a reflection of this effort.

It usually takes a while for new data like this to be widely adopted, which is why you’ll see a range of reserve estimates in the myriad presentations and slide decks out there, telling the rare-earth story.

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1 Jack Lifton February 27, 2011 at 12:48 AM


I have always understood that the USGS rare earth figures are flexible. In 1997, as I recall, the USGS estimated China’s REO reserves at 49 million tons. And as I recall in the 1980s the USGS predicted that by 2000 the principal supplier of REOs to the globe would be South Africa.

The most interesting aspect of the charts that you use is the volumes ascribed to “others.” USGS Estimates of Chinese reserves seem to have risen 50% in one year while “others” has not budged even though most of us are aware of significant large discoveries of REOs in places like Gabon, Malawi and Namibia as well as in Brazil and Argentina.

Dr. Chen’s figures accepted by the Chinese Society for Rare Earths show Brazil with a very large contribution to world reserves.

Its time that we had peer-reviewed numbers and analyses of government backed publications to avoid situations like this.

Congratulations on this article. Its very significant and important to our understanding of the issue and to its clarification for potential investors.

2 Volkhart February 27, 2011 at 10:22 AM

whereas Chinas Bayan Obo deposit has reached the bottom of its folded synsedimentary structure, both huge Australian deposits are open to depht. We will know more once Arafura Resources has completed its recent drilling campaign striving for -200m for the first time. The reserves could easily be doubled

3 Cláudio Holanda February 27, 2011 at 10:34 AM

It is time to consider the carbonatites resources in Angola (Txvira, Bonga and Catanga Complexes). They have pyrochlore (Nb) and Rare Earth minerals. The big question now is: Western countries are with their arms folded in the massive presence of China in Angola. Last news from there informs that more than 600.000 chinese are working now in Angola. It will be easy for them to control Angola’s natural resources.

4 Isaac February 27, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Just how useful is this data?
Its one thing to have ‘estimates of reserves’.
Its a whole other thing to have ore that is concentrated enough to justify spending $’s on mining and on a concentrating and separation factory.
Its a whole other thing to have ore that isn’t heavily embedded with radioactive elements that make its handling unpractical.
Its a whole other thing to have the extensive infrastructure and funding in place to enable a company to bring refined product to market.
Looking at these factors, I would place Lynas Corp (LYSCF) in first place for western investors, with Molycorp (MCP) a distant second.

5 Geoff February 27, 2011 at 2:05 PM

Gareth, these new data for global rare earth totals for 2011 are much appreciated. I am wondering whether a breakdown by light and heavy rare earths is similarly available. Given how critical the supply of heavies is likely to be going forward, I wonder whether the changes in reserves from 2010 to 2011 are largely in the LREE’s or whether there has been any relative improvement in the situation with HREE’s? I recognize of course that reserves do not necessarily translate readily into supply.

6 Jack February 27, 2011 at 2:52 PM

You did your homework again. Love your charts. It all looks like a rosy future for GO GREEN AMERICA ! The Green market will soon make Rare Earths so valuable that mining and processing costs will easily be obsorbed and new mines like ours will have a strong likleyhood of success. But we still need strong government to implement patend laws for new claims and investors will come running into the future. Rare Earth Exploration llc JackWayne

7 Dr.L.K.Agarwal February 27, 2011 at 11:52 PM

The data shown are amazing . These are highly useful .

8 blackjack February 28, 2011 at 5:26 AM

i dont understand
you are saying from 2010 that Australia has 5.5% reserves and now 2011 sees less reserves at 1.4%

The LYNAS deposit at Mount Weld, 35 kilometres south of Laverton, is the world’s richest known rare earth deposit. Rich means mine less and get more.

And its big.

THere are also several others that are near or starting production – ALK

So what am I missing here? Appreciate some more detail. thanks

9 Sander March 1, 2011 at 10:40 AM

Dear Gareth Hatch,

Thanks for this interesting article. I was wondering why the reserves of e.g. the United States, Malaysia and CIS have not been increasing since 2008 as the price of most rare earths has been increasing overall. The term reserves include this economically feasibility and thereforeit should become economically attractive to mine new rare earth deposits if prices rise right?

Best regards,


10 Trevor March 2, 2011 at 12:48 PM

What about Stans Energy in CIS?

11 Dr. Campos de Orellana September 14, 2011 at 5:41 AM

Dear Gareth
From your data China increased its REO reserves by 18.5 million tons
in 2011 relative to 2010, a jump of 51% in just one year.
Is there any reasonable explanation for that?. You explained the change for the australian reserves, but not for the chinese.

12 Kong Xiangpeng May 11, 2012 at 4:35 AM

I also want to know the reason for the increase of chinese REO reserves.Thank you!!

13 mr x May 13, 2012 at 10:02 PM

quite simple. these elements are the most critical in war, whether for defense or offense. the chinese have the americans by the balls. soon the american treasuries will be hedged to counter american default. it is not in the world’s best interests to support a rogue cop gone bad. I highly recommend reading the truthers and ‘the truth shall set you free’.

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