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Rare Earth Elements in Turkiye: Emerging Prospects

Mr Abhishek Yadav is a Research Analyst in the West Asia Centre at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • June 15, 2023

    Turkiye discovered the world’s second-largest deposit of rare earth elements (REEs) in the Beylikova district of Eskisehir in 2022. With an estimated reserve size of 694 million tons, the discovered rare earth element deposit ranks second-largest globally.1 China currently holds the top position with its rare earth element field boasting a reserve of 800 million tons. China dominates the global landscape of rare earth minerals, contributing significantly to various stages of their production and processing. Specifically, China holds a commanding position by accounting for 60 per cent of the worldwide rare earth mined production, 85 per cnet of the rare earth processing capacity, and 90 per cent share in the manufacturing of high-strength rare earth permanent magnets.2

    Significance of Rare Earth Elements

    As per the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), REEs or rare earths consist of 17 distinct metallic elements, encompassing scandium and yttrium, as well as the lanthanide series, which includes 15 elements—lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium.3 They play critical roles in various modern industries and technologies, including electronics, magnets, batteries, catalysts, and lighting.

    REEs are indispensable for a wide range of defence technologies. These include targeting lasers, precision-guided munitions, communication systems, aerospace engines, airframes, radar systems, optical equipment, electronic countermeasures and sonar.4 REEs are vital components in these technologies, providing enhanced precision, efficiency and capabilities for defence operations. Despite the complexities involving the extraction and processing of REEs, its increasing demand is driven by technological advancements and the quest for renewable energy.

    The anticipated growth in the demand for critical minerals, which play a vital role in clean energy and other technological applications, is expected to be substantial in the forthcoming decades. Therefore, in June 2022, the United States and several partner countries introduced the Minerals Security Partnership (MSP) 5 , aimed at strengthening critical mineral supply chains. The primary objective of the MSP is to ensure that critical minerals are extracted, processed, and recycled in a manner that maximises the economic benefits derived from geological resources.

    MSP intends to facilitate government and private sector investments throughout the entire value chain while upholding the highest standards of environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and governance. The MSP includes Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Commission. These partners are dedicated to establishing responsible and resilient critical mineral supply chains that support both economic prosperity and climate-related objectives. It can be seen as an effort to reduce the dependency on China.

    Turkiye’s Progress So Far

    Turkiye has a long history of exploration for rare earths, with reports dating back to the early 1970s. However, the most concrete work began in 2011, with Eti Maden, a Turkish state company specialising in mining and geology of these elements. During the six years that followed, 125,193 meters of drilling were carried out, and 59,121 samples were collected from the field. These samples were analysed, leading to the discovery of 694 million tons of rare earth elements.6

    Eti Maden plans to initially process around 1,200 tons of ore per year at a pilot facility. However, with a significant investment in a larger industrial facility in the coming years, this amount is expected to increase substantially to approximately 570,000 tons. The processed ore is projected to yield about 10,000 tons of rare earth oxide, 72,000 tons of barite, 70,000 tons of fluorite, and 250 tons of thorium, a nuclear industry fuel.7

    According to the then Turkiye’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Fatih Donmez, the newly uncovered rare earth element reserve is conveniently located close to the surface. This advantageous positioning implies that the extraction process will be less expensive. He also stated that Turkiye could produce ten rare elements from this reserve. This significant discovery will enable domestic production of rare elements primarily for Turkiye’s industrial sectors while also creating export opportunities.8

    As highlighted by Donmez, the Turkish economic model encompasses key principles such as investment, employment, production, and export. In line with this model, the focus is on leveraging Turkiye’s rare earth element reserves to establish a flourishing high-end industry. By transforming the ore into intermediate and end products, the aim is not only to meet the needs of the domestic industry but also to surpass them and create opportunities for exports. This approach encompasses the entire supply chain, from initial production to final products, fostering the production of high-tech, value-added goods that cater to the Turkish market.9

    Ultimately, this strategy is designed to drive economic growth, promote investment, generate employment, and enhance Turkiye’s standing in the global economy. While Turkiye's claim has garnered attention, experts urge caution, pointing out that the true extent and quality of the rare earth elements in Turkiye’s deposit remain uncertain and require further assessment. Furthermore, even if Turkiye possesses a significant deposit, the challenge lies in establishing efficient processing capabilities, where China currently holds a competitive advantage.10

    Significantly, European Union has been actively involved in partnering with Turkiye for exploration and relevant research on rare earths. For instance, the ERA-MIN Joint Call 2019 project titled “Recovery of rare earth elements from complex ores in Turkey and their potential use in high tech industrial applications” is being undertaken from December 2020 to November 2023. The project, with the acronym RETECH, aims to recover rare earth elements from complex ores in Turkiye and explore their potential applications in high-tech industries. The partners involved in the project include Rare Earth Elements Research Institute (Turkiye), the National R&D Institute for Nonferrous and Rare Metals (Romania), the General Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration (Turkiye), Rumelisiad Girisim A.S. (Turkiye), and INCDMRR (Romania).

    Turkiye’s General Directorate of Industry has initiated the project titled ‘Enhancing the Rare Earth Elements (REEs) Research and Innovation Capacity of Turkey’11 to establish a national supply chain for REEs in the country, ensure a safe, continuous and reliable supply while increasing Research and Development (R&D) capacity. Over a 24-month duration, starting from 21 July 2022, the project, with the European Union’s contribution of more than Euros 11 million, focuses on specific objectives. These include establishing a reliable supply chain for REEs, recovering and purifying REEs from mineralisation areas, recycling rare earths from electronic waste, undertaking R&D for Neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) permanent magnets and high-value-added products, and developing the research infrastructure and commercialisation of new products using REEs.

    The project has aimed to strengthen the national REE ecosystem, improve Munzur University Rare Earth Elements Application and Research Center (MUNTEAM)’s infrastructure, establish a recycling facility at the General Directorate of Mineral Research Exploration (MTA), provide training and consultancy for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and stakeholders, and raise awareness about REEs.

    The first sectoral workshop12 of the REE Project was held from 31 January to 1 February 2023 at MTA in Turkiye. The workshop aimed to increase Turkiye’s national R&D capacity in REE and establish a sustainable supply chain for economic development. Participants included SMEs, R&D centres, manufacturing companies, and entrepreneurs in the field. The workshop featured presentations on REE deposits, ore processing, purification techniques, production from primary and secondary sources, and business potentials. It also involved group work and discussions on resource potential, mining, purification, recycling, and industrial applications of REEs. The workshop facilitated networking and collaboration, showcasing Turkiye’s increasing prioritisation towards REE sector.

    Path Ahead

    The discovery of substantial rare earth reserve in Turkiye offers the potential to boost its deteriorating economy and diversify the global supply chain. However, Turkiye will have to work on multiple aspects, including lowering extraction costs and setting up a complete and durable industrial chain. In such context, it is yet to be seen whether Turkiye will collaborate with China to gain technical expertise and technology or continue its existing collaboration with the EU. Whatever course it takes, it may be said that there is a long and arduous path ahead for Turkiye to gain the requisite industry experience to become a significant producer of rare earths.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.