Russia is second only to China in terms of volumes of rare earth metal reserves, but accounts for just 2% of the global market. Supposedly, development of known reserves is hampered by a lack of local demand, but over 90% of required REMs are imported.
In the context of ever toughening sanctions, shifting to a model similar to China’s is becoming more attractive.
State corporation Rosatom and the Russian government signed an agreement in 2019 to develop the high-tech field of “technologies for new materials and substances” in Russia. In August 2022, rare and rare earth metals were included in a list of key strategic minerals approved by government decree.
The representative of Rosatom noted that by 2025 import dependence should be reduced to 50% and REM production should reach 2,700 tonnes. By 2030, according to the roadmap, Russia will be able to fully support itself by producing 7,500 thousand tonnes of REMs per year.
Enriched ore is sent to Solikamsk Magnesium Plant, the country’s only magnesium plant, where the intermediate REM product – a combined carbonate concentrate – is produced. In order to extract the metals that are necessary for industry, it has to be separated into oxides. There are no facilities capable of doing this on an industrial scale in Russia currently. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, they were inherited by Kazakhstan and Estonia. The concentrate was sent there for processing, but this is no longer viable.
Why it matters
As Russia is reconstructing its industry in the context of unprecedented sanctions, global demand for rare earth metals is rising. Both self-sufficiency in this field and potential exports may play a big role in rebuilding the economy.