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What are rare earths?

Rare earth elements are relatively plentiful in the earth's crust, with cerium being the 25th most abundant element at 68 parts per million. This makes it as abundant as copper. Because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed. This means they are often found in concentrated enough clusters to make them viable to mine. It was the scarcity of these minerals that led to them being called rare earths. Rare earths are categorised into light elements (lanthanum to samarium) and heavy elements (europium to lutetium). The latter are less common and consequently more expensive.

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Chemically, rare earths are strong reducing agents. Their compounds are generally ionic and they display high melting and boiling points. Rare earths are relatively soft when in their metallic state while those with a higher atomic number tend to be harder. Rare earths react with other metallic and non-metallic elements to form compounds each of which has specific chemical behaviours. This makes them indispensable and non-replaceable in many electronic, optical, magnetic, and catalytic applications. Rare earth compounds are commonly fluorescent under ultraviolet light, which can assist in their identification. Rare earths also react with water or diluted acid to produce hydrogen gas. ​​

Click here for a Summary of Rare Earth Elements and their Applications
  Rare Earth Element

Current Applications

 

Scandium Metals alloys used by the aerospace industry
Yttrium Phosphors , ceramics, metal alloys
Lanthanum Batteries, catalysts for petroleum refining
Cerium Autocatalysts, Chemical Catalyst, glass polishing, metal alloys
Praseodymium High power magnets, yellow ceramic pigment, Autocat
Neodymium High power magnets
Promethium Beta radiation source
Samarium High temperature magnets,
Europium fluorescent lighting
Gadolinium Magnetic resonance imaging contrast agent, nuclear reactor rods
Terbium Phosphors for lighting, high power high temperature magnets
Dysprosium High power high temperature magnets, lasers
Holmium Highest power magnets in existence
Erbium Lasers, glass colourant
Thulium Ceramic magnetic materials which are still under development
Ytterbium Fibre optic technology, solar panels
Lutetium PET scanners
Click here for a Summary of Rare Earths Compounds and their Applications
Rare Earths Compound  Applications
Catalysts

Petroleum refining

Chemical processing

Catalytic converters

Diesel additives

Industrial pollution scrubbers

Glass

Polishing compounds

Optical glass

UV resistant glass

X-ray imaging

Thermal control mirrors

Colourisers / deodarisers

Metal Alloys

Hydrogen storage – NiMH batteries; fuel cells

Steel

Lighter flints

Aluminum / magnesium

Cast iron

Superalloys

Electronics

Display phosphors – LCD, PDP, CRT

Medical imaging phosphors

Lasers

Fibre optics

Optical temperature sensors

Ceramics

Capacitors

Sensors

Colourants

Scintillators

Magnets

Motors

Disk drives and disk drive motors

Power generation

Actuators

Microphones and speakers

MRI

Anti-lock brake systems

Automotive parts

Communication systems

Electric drive and propulsion

Frictionless bearings

Magnetic storage disks

Microwave power tubes

Magnetic refrigeration

Magnetostrictive alloys

Click here for a summary of Rare Earths and their key attributes