¿What are the rare lands?

importance of rare earths

The touch screens of mobile phones, fluorescent light tubes, components of electric cars and many of the technological devices we use require chemical elements with a special name to function correctly: rare earths. It is still curious that, despite the name, more and more appear and are "less rare." Many people wonder What are the rare lands.

Therefore, in this article we are going to tell you what rare earths are, why they are important and much more.

¿What are the rare lands?

exploitation of rare earths

These elements, known as neither common nor abundant, encompass a set of chemicals that occur naturally and share similar characteristics. They are mainly found in limited quantities in the Earth's crust and form a distinct group.

The rare earth group consists of seventeen elements, namely, lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), neodymium (Nd), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd). ), terbium (Tb), dysprosium (Dy), holmium (Ho), erbium (Er), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), lutetium (Lu), scandium (Sc) and yttrium (Y).

Although the term "earths" may seem puzzling, it is actually a term that has been passed down throughout the history of chemistry. In the past, "earths" were called "oxides," and this group of elements inherited the name. It is important to note that not all of these elements are actually rare or scarce on Earth; in fact, some, such as cerium, are quite abundant and can be found as frequently as copper.

What makes rare earths important?

What are the rare lands

Although rare earths were initially discovered in the 1950th century, it was not until the 1960s and 15s that their use began to be used, particularly in the military industry. In the last XNUMX years, There has been a significant increase in the demand for rare earth minerals, driven mainly by its crucial role in the production of various technologies and consumer goods.

These elements possess distinct physical-chemical characteristics that are indispensable in the production of advanced consumer goods, including mobile phones, hard drives, electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as monitors, among several other examples.

The energy industry obtains advantages from the use of these valuable elements. For example, Gadolinium and terbium play crucial roles in photovoltaic cells, while lanthanum and neodymium are essential components of the batteries that power electric vehicles. Additionally, europium and cerium are frequently found in LEDs, contributing to the production of superior, energy-efficient lighting.

While it is true that some of these components are not particularly uncommon, most of them are difficult to locate in significant quantities, which adds complexity to the extraction and purification process. Due to these factors, rare earths are classified as critical minerals and They become increasingly indispensable for the global economy. Consequently, any disruption to the supply chain could have serious repercussions.

Where are rare earths obtained from?

rare earth

The American Geosciences Institute reports that in 1993, China, the United States, Australia, Malaysia, and India collectively contributed to global rare earth production. China led the pack with 38%, followed closely by the United States with 33% and Australia with 12%. Malaysia and India followed with 5% each. However, the picture changed dramatically in 2008, when China's share skyrocketed to more than 90% of global production. In 2011, China's dominance reached a staggering 97% of global production.

In light of the current need for these resources to advance technological advances, there is a growing effort to reduce dependence on the Asian power.

On the contrary, in a context of scarcity and monopoly, The production of this valuable resource, known as "green gold", has important environmental consequences. The extraction and refining procedures involved are highly toxic and result in large generation of waste, which has detrimental effects on the natural environment. Consequently, there is a global imperative to prioritize the exploration of sustainable methods for the production and recycling of rare earths, which serve as a crucial strategy to reduce dependence on China.

Circular economy and rare earths

To reduce dependence on China, one approach is to reduce the use of rare earths by replacing them with readily available elements. Tesla, a prominent company, recently announced that its upcoming electric motors will feature magnets that do not require rare earths. This serves as an excellent example of this alternative strategy.

Efficient resource management and implementation of a circular economy serve as another viable strategy. It is important to note that all rare earths have the potential to be recovered, reused and recycled, despite the complexity of the technologies involved. This approach is very promising, as highlighted by Simon Jowitt, an esteemed economic geologist at the University of Nevada. It reveals that only 1% of the rare earths currently available on the market go through the recycling process.

Although the percentage is low, the transition scenario presents a promising future: the adoption of a circular economy by the rare earths industry will unlock new economic, social and environmental perspectives, leading to a more resilient and sustainable reality.

The trade dispute between the United States and China has put rare earths in the spotlight as a critical factor. Recently, the China Rare Earth Industry Association expressed opposition to Donald Trump's recently imposed tariffs, calling them a form of "trade bullying." They emphasized that the burden of these taxes should fall on American consumers and markets.

Currently, approximately 80% of the rare earths used by the United States are imported from this Asian power. Despite China's production of 15 thousand tons in 2018, which is one of the highest globally, second only to Australia, it pales in comparison to China's annual production of 120 thousand tons.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about what rare earths are and their importance.


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