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.