With China dominating rare earth headlines, investors are now looking elsewhere in a bid to lock down resources in a clearly monopolized market. Advanced infrastructure and a thriving mining sector have led to increased investor attention being focused on Australia.
Australia has a world-renowned reputation for being the "lucky energy country" in that it is one of the few areas that boasts large quantities of commodities accompanied by the infrastructure and capital means to effectively extract them. When it comes to rare earth elements (REEs), the country hosts a minimal, yet strategically important reserve. According to the Australian government, the largest REE deposit in the world is the Bayan Obo deposit in China, which has resources totalling at least 48 million tonnes of rare earth oxides (REO) out of a total worldwide resource of 95.27 million tonnes. Australia's share of this amount is somewhat modest at 1.65 million tonnes - 1.73 percent of global Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR). There is currently no rare earth production in Australia, but with one REO project under construction in Western Australia and feasibility studies underway in the Northern Territory and New South Wales, it holds the potential to once again become a producer. A detailed history Small-scale production of rare earth in Australia has a detailed history dating back to the 1950s, when a small quantity of monazite was processed to produce cerium oxide for glass polishing in New South Wales. From 1969 to 1972, compounds including cerium, lanthanum, yttrium, and thorium compounds were produced at Port Pirie in South Australia from locally-extracted monazite. According to figures released by Geoscience Australia, Australia has historically exported large quantities of monazite from heavy mineral sands mined for the extraction of both rare earth and thorium in Western Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland. Over 265 kilotonnes of product were exported between 1952 and 1995. A stable investment climate Australia's stable economy, coupled with mining assets and proximity to growing demand in Asia, has helped strengthen both domestic and foreign investment into the country. Its federal government has focused much of its economic stimulus program on the development of infrastructure, with the aim of making a positive contribution to long-term productivity, particularly within the mining sector.