Before the 1950, most rare earth minerals were mined in India and Brazil. However, South Africa became the world’s leading producer in the 1950’s with the large discovery of monazite. In the 1960’s, California’s Mountain Pass mine become the global leader in rare earth mineral production.
All of these sites continue to produce rare earth minerals, although it is China that now dominates the industry with more than 97% of production. The majority of China’s production is in Inner Mongolia and in particular their Bayan Obo mine, which is said to be the largest single deposit of rare earth’s yet found.
In 2010, China announced that it would be reducing the amount of rare earth minerals it exports to 35,000 tons per year up until 2015. This has largely been seen as a political maneuver as the restriction only applies to the export of the raw minerals and not goods derived from them. This has led to many international companies moving manufacturing facilities to China.
In recent years additional production capacity has come online, as demand for the rare earth minerals continues to rise. Innovation in the methods and techniques for extracting rare earths, such as submarine mining conducted by Yokohama Marine Mining, are essential to satisfying the continued demand for these essential minerals.