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Shares of junior Canadian miners with rare earth prospects gained sharply today as manufacturers and investors eyed alternative producers of the minerals after main supplier China slashed export quotas.
China accounts for 97 percent of the world's production of rare earths – minerals crucial to producing high-tech goods such as smartphones, electric cars and wind turbines.
While deposits exist in Australia, the United States and Canada, exploration and production lags China significantly.
The market gap opened by China's export curbs will likely be filled first by developing mines like Molycorp's (MCP-N) Mountain Pass in California and Lynas's Mount Weld in Australia.
But those deposits are skewed toward "light" rare earths such as cerium and lanthanum, while "heavy" elements such as dysprosium, terbium and europium are more in focus in Canada.
Shares of junior miner Avalon Rare Metals (AVL-T), which is developing its Nechalacho project in Canada's Northwest Territories, surged sharply higher on the news from China.
Shares of Vancouver-based Rare Element Resources Ltd. (REE-A), which owns rare earth properties in the United States, also jumped higher on the news.
Great Western Minerals (GWG-X), Avalon and Stans Energy (RUU-X) are all clamoring to bring heavy rare earth projects online, with production projected for 2013 and beyond.
Another Canadian company, Dacha Strategic Metals (DSM-X), said it paid $3.5 million for 12,000 kg of dysprosium.
There are at least 26 publicly traded companies in Canada that have rare earth projects at some stage of development. But good quality, economically feasible deposits are scarce.
Despite the name, the rare earths are a relatively abundant group of 17 chemical elements. They were originally described as rare because they were unknown in their elemental form and difficult to extract from the rocks that contained them.