The Importance of Rare Earth Elements
What is rare earth and it uses for?
According to the definition of Wikipedia, rare earth is a term coined mainly for rare earth elements that are certain groups of elements in the periodic table. Rare earth also consists of rare minerals that are made up of rare earth elements along with rare earth magnet. China is one of the largest rare earth elements producers in the world. In recent days, China is becoming more reluctant to provide these elements to the worldwide investors that are causing a huge disturbance on the global scale. It is essential to first understand these rare earth elements and their primary uses in order to realize their worldwide importance.
What are rare earth elements?
Rare earth elements basically consist of 17 rarely found elements that are present in the periodic table. Out of these 17 rare elements, 15 elements come under Lanthanide series. These 15 Lanthanides and 2 other elements, Scandium as well as Yttrium are together known as rare earth elements. In Lanthanides series, the 15 elements are Cerium, Lanthanum, Neodymium, Samarium, Gadolinium, Dysprosium, Erbium, Ytterbium, Lutetium, Thulium, Holmium, Terbium, Europium, Promethium, and Praseodymium.
These rare earth elements are also called as rare earth metals because all of the above elements are basically metals in nature. Most of the times, these elements are found together in the form of geological deposits. There is a worldwide debate whether or not to consider Scandium as a rare earth element. But according to the sources from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, Scandium is included in the rare earth elements category.
Which are the biggest rare earth elements producers in the world?
Very few countries in the world have abundant resources of rare earth elements. Amongst the countries that produce rare earth elements, China is the dominant player in the world. It is believed that the largest rare earth elements deposit lies in the Bayan Obo area of China. It has already been found out that out of 95.27 million tons of the world’s rare earth elements resources; China has more than 47 million tons of rare earth oxides. Other important rare earth elements producers in the world are Canada, India, Malaysia, Australia, USA, and Brazil. China, USA and Commonwealth countries have the largest rare earth elements reserves in the world.
What is rare earth uses?
Rare earth elements have several industrial uses worldwide. The primary rare earth uses are in the electronics and electrical fields. Most of the above mentioned rare earth elements and their alloys are being used in different types of electronic devices such as rechargeable batteries, computer memory, cell phones, DVDs, magnets, car catalytic converters, fluorescent lighting, and several other instruments.
Today, the worldwide demand for all the above-mentioned electronic devices and instruments has quadrupled. And to fulfill this ever-increasing global demand, it is essential to have more supply of rare earth metals. There are several industries such as petroleum refining, glass polishing, chemical catalysts, metallurgy, catalytic converters, permanent magnets production, television and monitors, etc. where these rare earth elements need in abundance. Rechargeable batteries are built only with the help of rare earth metals and alloys. These batteries are mainly used to power up several electrical and electronic devices, digital cameras, computers, laptops, hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles.
Other important usage of rare earth metals is in the industries that make use of phosphors, catalysts, and polishing compounds. Such types of catalysts, phosphors and polishing compounds are then used in illuminating screens of several electronic devices along with optical quality glass. Air pollution control is also possible with these catalysts and phosphors made up of rare earth elements.
The most significant rare earth uses are in the military and national defense field. Lanthanum metal is used to make night vision goggles. Europium is used in building phosphors and fluorescent material that is used in monitors and lamps. Neodymium element is mainly used in making guidance systems, laser range finders and in making efficient defense communication systems. Erbium metal is very important part of amplifiers that are used in fiber-optic data communication. Samarium element is mainly used in developing white noise stealth technology as well as precision-guided weapons. Permanent magnets are also built with the help of Samarium metal.
What is the future of global market that has increasing demand for rare earth elements?
The global demand for several electronic devices, instruments, defense equipment, magnets, and pollution control catalysts is continuously rising every year. China is still the most dominant player in the production of rare earth metals and alloys. China has also restricted the export of these valuable elements to some extent. This emphasizes the need to find more natural resources of rare earth elements across the globe.