Rare Earth Elements (REE) are a set of seventeen metallic elements. These include the fifteen lanthanides of the periodic table plus scandium and. These include the fifteen lanthanides in the periodic table plus scandium and yttrium. Heavy rare earths are often more difficult 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). The sustainable and socially just production of rare earth metals ultimately depends on the willingness of consumers and manufacturers to pay more for ethically produced materials.
This is due to the fact that rare earth minerals have metals that, when mixed with chemicals from leach ponds, pollute air, water, and soil. Rare earths acquired a new status in 1939, after Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner and Fritz Strassmann discovered the nuclear fission of uranium, a vision that led to the atomic bomb and identified rare earth elements in fission products. While the mine's uranium and thorium deposits were not useful, its rare earth element deposits did. Extraction of rare earth minerals generates large volumes of toxic and radioactive material, due to the co-extraction of radioactive metals from thorium and uranium, which can cause problems for the environment and human health.
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 challenge of separating rare earth elements from the mineral and from each other made it unclear how many rare earth elements there could be. In the United States, the plan to build an atomic bomb, called the Manhattan Project, drew on the experience of leading American rare earth chemist, Frank Spedding, to solve a key problem. The United States has made previous attempts to re-emerge as a dominant player in a rare earth supply chain that is responsible for some of the most important materials involved in electric vehicle production, battery manufacturing, renewable energy systems and technology manufacturing.
Another idea is to better design our technologies so that we can more easily reduce or reuse the rare earth metals they contain. The chemical properties of rare earth elements make it difficult to separate them from surrounding materials and from each other.