What are Rare Earth Elements?

4 min read

News: The United States Army has planned to fund the construction of a Rare Earths processing facility to secure the domestic supply of minerals. The decision comes after China threatened to stop exporting Rare Earth materials to the US.

Facts:

Rare Earth Elements

  • Rare earth elements (REEs) are a group of seventeen chemically similar metallic elements on the periodic table. It comprises of 15 lanthanides elements (lanthanum to lutetium), plus scandium and yttrium.
  • Characteristics: REEs are characterized by high density, high melting point, high conductivity, and high thermal conductance. REEs are classified into Heavy REE and Light REE.
  • Sources: REEs do not occur in a free state. They are found in mineral oxide ores. The principal sources of rare earth elements are bastnaesite, xenotime commonly found in mineral sand deposits, loparite which occurs in alkaline igneous rocks and monazite.

Use of REEs

  •  Aerospace and Defence: Used in precision-guided munitions in missiles, high-power sonar on ships and submarines, stealth helicopters, etc.
  • Health care: used in medical imaging devices, such as MRIs, modern surgical machines
  • Clean Energy: Used in wind turbines, electric car batteries and energy-efficient lights (LEDs and CFLs)
  • Nuclear Energy: useful for controlling nuclear reactions and is used in control rods.
  •  Electronics: Used as phosphors in cathode ray tubes, fluorescent lamps and X-ray intensifying screens.
  • Chemicals, Oil Refining, and manufacturing: Make the refining of crude oil into gasoline more efficient and are used in many specialty metal alloys

Production and Trade: China possesses one-third of the world’s known deposits of rare earth metals and is the world leader in REE supply comprising 90% of the global market.

Additional Information:

REEs in India

  • REEs in India
  •  In India, significant rare earth minerals found are ilmenite, sillimanite, garnet, zircon, monazite, and rutile, collectively called Beach Sand Minerals (BSM).
  •  Monazite is the principal source. Monazite is mainly found in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, and Jharkhand.
  • The two Government-owned producers of REE are the Rare Earth Division of Indian Rare Earths Ltd. (under Department of Atomic Energy) and Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd. (KMML).