The demand for rare earth elements has grown rapidly, but their occurrence in minable deposits is limited.
Article by: Hobart M. King, PhD, RPG
Rare Earth Element Production: This chart shows a history of rare earth element production, in metric tons of rare earth oxide equivalent, between 1950 and 2021. It clearly shows the United States' entry into the market in the mid-1960s when color television exploded demand. When China began selling rare earths at very low prices in the late 1980s and early 1990s, mines in the United States were forced to close because they could no longer make a profit.  When China cut exports in 2010, rare earth prices skyrocketed. That motivated new production in the United States, Australia, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries. In 2018 production data in Burma / Myanmar became available and boosted the "others" category. Prior to 2018, some production from Burma / Myanmar may have been unreported. Graph by Geology.com using data from United States Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries and other publications.
REE Periodic Table: The Rare Earth Elements are the 15 lanthanide series elements, plus yttrium. Scandium is found in most rare earth element deposits and is sometimes classified as a rare earth element. Image by Geology.com.
What Are Rare Earth Elements (REEs)? Rare earth elements are a group of seventeen chemical elements that occur together in the periodic table (see image). The group consists of yttrium and the 15 lanthanide elements (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium). Scandium is found in most rare earth element deposits and is sometimes classified as a rare earth element. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry includes scandium in their rare earth element definition.
The rare earth elements are all metals, and the group is often referred to as the "rare earth metals." These metals have many similar properties, and that often causes them to be found together in geologic deposits. They are also referred to as "rare earth oxides" because many of them are typically sold as oxide compounds.