Sure, gold is having a record run and base metals like nickel are heating up again in what’s shaping up to be a cyclical bull market in the mining sector, but it’s the rare earth metals that are on fire.

Prices for these commodities ranging from dysprosium, terbium and europium — the heavy rare earths — have jumped 300 per cent on average so far this year, yet they are not on most investors’ radar because most miners aren’t actively hunting for the rare stuff in North America.

But Avalon Rare Metals Inc. is one of a handful of the juniors outside China that is poised to benefit. The Toronto-based explorer has its hands on a deposit of these obscure metals at Thor Lake near Yellowknife, and is slowly but surely getting closer to its goal of opening a mine there as early as 2015.

Geologist Don Bubar has been slugging it out for the last 15 years as the founder and chief executive of the company, but says he finally sees some light at the end of the tunnel.

Q: Why are rare metals so hot right now?
A: There’s been a tremendous amount of publicity around the rare earths and the shortages that are being experienced in the marketplace, and the increasing demand for all these new applications in clean technology.

Q: What’s in demand?
A: The rare earths are a group of 15 elements that are generally divided into subgroups called the light rare earths and the heavy rare earths. The key to our story remains the fact that our resource (near Yellowknife) contains an unusually high proportion of the heavy rare earths, which are particularly in short supply.

Q: What are they used for?
A: High-strength permanent magnets and phosphorous for lighting. The magnets are used in hybrid cars and wind turbines. The lighting is found in flat screen displays, florescent lighting, LED lighting, energy-efficient lighting as well as display panels.

Q: Where do you think the rare metals market is headed?
A: I think the supply/demand issue is likely to get worse: More restrictions on supply and higher demand, creating higher prices.