A report by BCC Research (AVM090A) says growth in consumption of rare earths is being driven to a large extent by the utilization of these materials in mechanical/metallurgical applications, primarily for the fabrication of permanent magnets. The mechanical/metallurgical sector is estimated to account for 32.1% of total rare earth oxide (REO) consumption for 2011. This trend should continue for 2012 but no total geological data have yet been accumulated for 2012.
Other sectors of application for rare earth materials are within the glass and ceramics; energy; chemical; and electronics, optics and optoelectronics sectors, which combined account for 65.4% of total REO consumption. Other sectors (such as life sciences, sensors and instrumentation, and consumer) account for a combined share of 2.5%.
Consumption of rare earths is projected to continue growing during the next five years, primarily driven by the energy and electronics and optoelectronics sectors. High-growth applications in these sectors include batteries for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), advanced displays and solid-state lighting.
The development of newer applications for rare earths in all the significant categories will continue over the next five to 10 years. The high unit prices of these materials represent an incentive for reducing consumption and finding alternative materials, or greatly increasing recycling of the materials. The most cost-effective solution is good recycle and separation technologies for the rare earths elements and their potential alloys.
The global market for rare earths increased from 111.5 thousand metric tons of equivalent rare earth oxides (REO) in 2009 to 141.3 thousand metric tons in 2010, and reached 158.2 thousand metric tons in 2011. The total market for rare earths is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 10.3% through 2016, leading to a total market of nearly 258 billion tons of REO in 2016.
The mechanical/metallurgical sector is estimated to account for 32.1% of total REOs in 2011. This sector was 44.8 thousand metric tons in 2010 and reached 51 thousand metric tons in 2011. BCC expects this market to grow to 77 billion tons by 2016 increasing at a CAGR of 8.6%.
The energy segment is the fastest growing segment of the global rare earths market. This segment has grown from 23 thousand metric tons in 2010 to 27.3 thousand metric tons in 2011. By 2016 the energy segment will reach 62 thousand metric tons increasing at a CAGR of 17.8%.