Mexico’s Ministry of Economy will begin funding explorations projects to locate deposits of rare earth metals, a group of elements of increasing importance in variety of industries including green technology, defence systems, consumer electronics, and high-tech applications.
According to country’s Geological Survey (SGM), global demand for rare earths in 2016 will hit 160,000 tons, with China expected to produce up to 80% of that demand, which leaves room for other suppliers, The Economista reports (in Spanish).
At the moment about 95% of the world’s rare earths come from the Asian giant, which also imposes export quotas.
Only two rare-earth mines currently exist in other countries. One of them is Lynas Corp’s (ASX:LYC) Mount Weld mine in Australia, and the other one in California, US, owned by Molycorp (NYSE:MCP).
Mexico, the world’s 10th-biggest crude producer, is in the midst of an ambitious programme of reforms proposed by the government last year. These aim to throw open the country’s energy sector for the first time in more than seven decades. They also seek generating cheap energy to fuel local industries.
The country’s mining industry employs about 334,000 directly, with 2 million people employed indirectly, making the sector the country’s fourth largest industry in dollar income, behind cars, oil and electronics.
While the amount of rare earth deposits Mexico may have it is not yet known, the country holds vast underwater reserves of these elements off its west coast. Deep-sea mining, however, is unlikely to replace land-based mining, believe experts, but they add it could alleviate the fear of shortages and challenge China’s virtual monopoly on REE production.