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Rare Earths: Reserves, Potential, Recycling

usine de recyclage dans les terres rares

In 2022, according to USGS estimates, global reserves of rare earth elements amount to around 120 million tonnes, with 90% located as follows:

  • China: 44 million tonnes, or 37%

  • Vietnam: 21.6 million tonnes, or 18%

  • Brazil: 20.4 million tonnes, or 17%

  • Russia: 20.4 million tonnes, or 17%

Taking into account the current production rate of 280,000 tonnes and considering these reserves, it is estimated that the world has at least 430 years of rare earth element consumption ahead of it.

These data are subject to change as exploration progresses. The Arctic, on the other hand, is believed to possess the second-largest potential for rare earth elements after China, although its reserves have not been proven yet. In this scenario, there could be up to a thousand years of assured exploitation.

Quel est le potentiel de la France ?

In France, the main geological deposits with the potential for rare earth element exploitation are located in Brittany, French Guiana, and Polynesia.

In Brittany, reserves exist in the departments of Ille-et-Vilaine, Côtes-d'Armor, and Finistère. While these reserves are modest, they currently do not justify the establishment of a large-scale extraction chain. However, in the case of a significant increase in prices, the Ille-et-Vilaine site could enable marginal production.

In French Guiana, permissions for exploration or exploitation have been granted for mineral deposits including rare earth elements, but no major deposits have been discovered so far.

The seafloors near French Polynesia and New Caledonia could potentially contain rare earth resources. However, the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer) currently does not conduct research there, as metals present in oceanic rocks are generally less rich in rare earth elements compared to terrestrial rocks.

The highest observed content of rare earth elements in recent Japanese discoveries at depths exceeding 5,000 meters is only 0.3%, in contrast to the content of the largest deposits which is 5%.

Furthermore, deep-sea mining would have detrimental effects on marine ecosystems and jeopardize species and human populations that depend on their well-being.

Can a recycling industry be established in Europe?

processus pour extraire les terres rares des ampoules

The European Union has recently recognized the significance of recycling in fostering the development of a permanent magnet production industry. The European Critical Raw Materials Act, published on March 16, 2023, sets a target to increase recycling capacities of critical materials, including rare earth elements, by 15%.

Currently, only 1% of rare earth elements are recycled due to their low abundance, which complicates their separation from other metals. However, France possesses advantages in this regard: four French companies have developed innovative technologies that enhance the separation of rare earth elements, leading to reduced water and energy costs and minimized environmental impacts.

Given that recycling materials only to send them back to Chinese factories would be counterproductive, French companies are poised to act as both recycling operators and producers of rare earth elements, each specializing in distinct sectors:

  • automobile for Carester,

  • wind turbines for MagREEsources,

  • high-performance magnets for Orano,

  • home automation as well as small electric motors for REEfine.

Note that recycling will never completely replace the extraction and processing of rare earth elements.

photo de l'usine carester, production et recyclage de terres rares

Establishment of the Carester plant in the southwestern region of France

In conclusion, rare earth elements are emerging as key resources for our technological and security-driven future. With estimated global reserves of 120 million tonnes in 2022 and a projected consumption horizon of 430 years, these precious minerals continue to play a vital role in our ever-evolving world.

The potential of rare earth elements goes beyond current discoveries. The Arctic is emerging as a promising region, capable of rivaling China in terms of reserves. In France, potential deposits in Brittany, Guyana, and Polynesia highlight the growth of these resources within our country.

As we explore new avenues to maximize the use of rare earth elements, it's essential to also consider recycling. The European Union has recognized its crucial role in industry development, with ambitious goals to increase recycling capacities. French companies are already positioning themselves as major players in this transition, creating investment and innovation opportunities.

That's why we invite you to seize this unique opportunity to invest in the future of rare earth elements with ElioStrategy. Join us in shaping a sustainable future that's not only profitable but impactful, by participating in the development of this strategic resource. Download our brochure:



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