Rare Earth Metals, Elements, and Oxides

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My previous post on Hard Drives mentions the use of the Rare Earth Metal neodymium.  

What are rare earth metals, elements, and oxides? They are all basically the same thing and are NOT metals like gold, platinum, palladium and rhodium. Rare earth metals are those metals harvested from rare earth oxides, specifically the lanthanides, yttrium, and scandium.

Rare earth elements (REMs) have become more and more important in the materials world, seeing as most advanced electronics have them. This means everything from smart phones to advanced military missels require these metals. I included a more specific list at the end of this post.

As you can see, the future generations of technology are going to be powered, in a sense, by rare earth metals, and this makes them a hot commodity! Rare earth metals are growing more expensive by the day, and recently, supplies have been threatened.

The rare earth supply has grown in the last 10 years to be supplied almost entirely by imports. 98% of rare earth minerals are getting mined in China!

“So what?” people say, “Everything else now-a-days is getting supplied by China too!” Well, that may not alarm you, but what I am about to tell you should.

Recently Chinese officials said they would be tightening the export of all Rare Earth Metals. They have almost completely stopped selling to Japan, and are driving up prices by not selling! This is bad new to the United States, who is already busy trying to become independent of foreign oil.

It is quite a peculiar situation; Rare earth metals are becoming more necessary for energy independence, and now their prices are getting jacked up just like oil! Neodymium has increased four fold in less than a year. One US company, Molycorp (NYSE:MCP), has been pushed into the wall street spotlight, recently gaining 213%. Molycorp is the owner of the biggest Rare Earth Mine in North America called  Mountain Pass.

Japan, one of the countries China has decided to pick on, is in the process of starting up a recycling program for rare earth metals. The United States, however, has sat back with no response.

I know this may not effect the scrapping industry as of yet, but I am willing to bet that soon enough, there will be rare earth metal refineries popping up around the country and these 17 metals will be common place to many of us who live to see the next 50 years.

As promised:
Z
Symbol
Name
Etymology
Selected Usages
21
Sc
Scandium
from Latin Scandia (Scandinavia), where the first rare earth ore was discovered.
Light Aluminium-scandium alloy for aerospace components, additive in Mercury-vapor lamps.
39
Y
Yttrium
for the village of Ytterby, Sweden, where the first rare earth ore was discovered.
Yttrium-aluminum garnet (YAG) laser, YBCO high-temperature superconductors, yttrium iron garnet (YIG) microwave filters.
57
La
Lanthanum
from the Greek “lanthanein”, meaning to be hidden.
High refractive index glass, flint, hydrogen storage, battery-electrodes, camera lenses, fluid catalytic cracking catalyst for oil refineries
58
Ce
Cerium
for the dwarf planet Ceres.
Chemical oxidizing agent, polishing powder, yellow colors in glass and ceramics, catalyst for self-cleaning ovens, fluid catalytic cracking catalyst for oil refineries
59
Pr
Praseodymium
from the Greek “prasios”, meaning leek-green, and “didymos”, meaning twin.
Rare-earth magnets, lasers, core material for carbon arc lighting, colourant in glasses and enamels, additive in Didymium glass used in welding goggles,[3] ferrocerium firesteel (flint) products.
60
Nd
Neodymium
from the Greek “neos”, meaning new, and “didymos”, meaning twin.
Rare-earth magnets, lasers, violet colors in glass and ceramics, ceramic capacitors
61
Pm
Promethium
for the Titan Prometheus, who brought fire to mortals.
Nuclear batteries
62
Sm
Samarium
for Vasili Samarsky-Bykhovets, who discovered the rare earth ore samarskite.
Rare-earth magnets, lasers, neutron capture, masers
63
Eu
Europium
for the continent of Europe.
Red and blue phosphors, lasers, mercury-vapor lamps
64
Gd
Gadolinium
for Johan Gadolin (1760–1852), to honor his investigation of rare earths.
Rare-earth magnets, high refractive index glass or garnets, lasers, x-ray tubes, computer memories, neutron capture
65
Tb
Terbium
for the village of Ytterby, Sweden.
Green phosphors, lasers, fluorescent lamps
66
Dy
Dysprosium
from the Greek “dysprositos”, meaning hard to get.
Rare-earth magnets, lasers
67
Ho
Holmium
for Stockholm (in Latin, “Holmia”), native city of one of its discoverers.
Lasers
68
Er
Erbium
for the village of Ytterby, Sweden.
Lasers, vanadium steel
69
Tm
Thulium
for the mythological northern land of Thule.
Portable X-ray machines
70
Yb
Ytterbium
for the village of Ytterby, Sweden.
Infrared lasers, chemical reducing agent
71
Lu
Lutetium
for Lutetia, the city which later became Paris.
PET Scan detectors, high refractive index glass

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