RARE EARTH ELEMENTS (REEs)Doubts Grow Over Turkey's Discovery of Huge Rare Earths Deposits

By Nik Martin

Published 30 July 2022

Turkey has announced the world’s second-largest deposit of rare earth elements (REEs) — critical metals needed to build electric cars, wind turbines, weapon systems, among other things. But is the Turkish REE grade good enough, and are the deposits found large enough to allow Ankara to end China’s REEs dominance?

As Europe struggles to wean itself off Russian energy, another critical issue — the continent’s almost total reliance on China for rare earths to power the clean energy transition — may have been solved by Turkey.

The Ankara government announced this month the discovery of a huge deposit of rare earth elements that when processed could be used to make electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels.

After drilling for more than a decade, Turkish geologists estimated that an area close to the northwestern city of Eskisehir has some 694 million tons of rare earth metals — second only to China’s 800 million tons.

Rare earths aren’t actually that scarce but they are attached to other metals, so refining them is a complicated process. The minerals often end up in magnets that have uses in commercial and military technology.

Turkey stays stumm over quality

While Turkey believes its new deposit is enough to meet the world’s needs for 1,000 years, a lack of clarity about the grade or quality of the metal elements has left many analysts scratching their heads.

If they’re claiming such a big deposit, they would done a lot of drilling and would know what the grade was,” Christopher Ecclestone, a principal and mining strategist at the UK research house Hallgarten & Company, told DW. “So where’s the detail?”

David Merriman, research director Rare Earths at global consultancy firm Wood Mackensie told DW that the Turkish deposit likely contains the rare earth elements lanthanum and serum which are “currently in a significant oversupply” and not the “rarest type in demand for use in high-performance magnets.”

British geologist Kathryn Goodenough recently told Wired magazine that Turkey’s deposit is likely to translate to around 14 million tons of rare earth oxides, less than a third of China’s estimated resource.

China dominance risks EU, US security

China currently supplies around four-fifths of the world’s rare earth material and is responsible for around 98% of the European Union’s imports of rare earth magnets — some 16,000 tons per year.

The largest operators in China’s supply chain are state-owned and/or heavily subsidized, which keeps the costs of Asian-made magnets around a third lower than their European equivalents.

China’s monopoly has raised concerns in Brussels, Berlin and Washington that rare earths could be used as leverage by Beijing in trade and geopolitical disputes. In 2010, China banned the export of the metals to Japan in a territorial row.