Rare Earth Elements (REE) are a set of seventeen metallic elements. These include the fifteen lanthanides in the periodic table plus scandium and. These include the fifteen lanthanides in the periodic table plus scandium and yttrium. Heavy rare earths are often harder to come by.
They include metals such as dysprosium and terbium, which play a critical role in defense, technology and electric vehicles. Neodymium and praseodymium are some of the most sought after and crucial light rare earth elements in products such as engines, turbines and medical devices. Demand for them has skyrocketed in recent years with the growth of technology and will continue to increase amid the ongoing race to create a large electric vehicle market. Rare Earth Elements (REE) are a group of 15 elements called lanthanide series in the periodic table of elements.
Although not true REEs, scandium and yttrium are included in this categorization because they exhibit properties similar to those of lanthanides and are found in the same mineral bodies. REEs are key components in many electronic devices that we use in our daily lives, as well as in a variety of industrial applications. Rare earth mining is a complex activity, with extraction that has a great impact on the environment (since it is carried out in open pit mines) and processing that generates a large amount of toxic waste (since different minerals have to be washed with acids to separate them). For every ton of rare earth produced, the extraction process produces 13 kg of dust, 9,600 to 12,000 cubic meters of waste gas, 75 cubic meters of wastewater and one ton of radioactive waste.
The secret country of Southeast Asia has become the world's third largest producer of rare earth minerals in the last decade, behind only China (58% of the total) and very close to the United States (16%). And a “zero-emission” car needs about a kilogram of neodymium for its engine and also about ten kilograms of other rare earth elements for its rechargeable batteries. The high prices of rare earths and the fear of not having them made bold solutions seem reasonable. Apart from trade wars, geopolitical balances and the green strategies of large multinationals, rare earths pose a dilemma that affects us all individually.
In general, the spectacular miniaturization of electronic components in recent decades would not have been possible without rare earths. At the same time that new applications of rare earth elements were being developed, changes in the global economy brought about changes in the locations of rare earth production and high-tech manufacturing. But many people tend to think that China supplies most of the rare earth elements because they have the most. Rare earths are relatively soft when in their metallic state, while those with a higher atomic number tend to be harder.
China can use its investments in the rare earth industry to move the dirtiest parts of production to locations outside of China, but still under Chinese financial control, thus shifting pollution to the poorest countries. By recycling electronic waste, rare earth metals can be recovered from electronic products such as mobile phones, laptops and electric vehicle batteries, once they reach the end of their useful life. While companies like Lynas and MP Materials are eager to increase domestic supply chains, rare earth mining is a difficult process due to a combination of environmental, technical and political factors. .