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The Significance of Rare Earth Elements

Rare earth metals (REM) and rare earth elements (REE) are the collection of 17 earth elements in the periodic table, namely scandium, yttrium, and 15 lanthanides. Because of their unique magnetic, fluorescent and chemical properties, REM and REE are key materials used in scientific innovation.

Major rare earth applications are used in hybrid vehicles. For example the Toyota Prius, contains 30 kg (65 lb) of REE. Rare earth elements are used in motors, metal hydride batteries, glass, autocatalysts, and electronics.

Oxide 99% min FOB China Principal Uses
Lanthanum Re-chargeable batteries
Cerium Catalysts, glass, polishing
Praseodymium Magnets, glass colourant
Neodymium Magnets, lasers, glass
Samarium Magnets, lighting, lasers
Europium TV Colour phosphors: red
Terbium Phosphors: green, magnets
Dysprosium Magnets, lasers
Gadolinium Magnets, superconductors
Yttrium Phosphors, ceramics, lasers

There are 15 accepted rare earth elements known as the lanthanides with atomic numbers 57 to 71 and are listed as follows: lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, and ytterbium.

Promethium is a synthetic element, which does not occur naturally is not generally included as a commodity. Yttrium is considered a rare earth since it tends to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides and exhibits similar chemical properties.

It has been the practice to report rare elements as a percentage oxide. The elements are initially reported from the lab in parts per million. The elements are converted to oxides with the following molecular formulas, La2O3, Ce2O3, Pr2O3, Nd2O3, Sm2O3, Eu2O3, Gd2O3, Tb2O3, Dy2O3, Ho2O3, Er2O3, Tm2O3, Yb2O3, Lu2O3, and Y2O3. Rare earth oxides are reported as total rare earth oxides (TREO) which is a simple addition of the percentages of the above 15 components

Rare earth oxides are further classified as light rare earth oxides (LREO), which include La2O3, Ce2O3, Pr2O3, Nd2O3 and Sm2O3, and heavy rare oxides (HREO), which include Eu2O3, Gd2O3, Tb2O3, Dy2O3, Ho2O3, Er2O3, Tm2O3, Yb2O3, Lu2O3, and Y2O3.

As a rough measure of the value of an assay, heavy rare earth elements (HREO) are reported as a percentage of total rare earth oxides (TREO). In the coming years heavy rare earth elements will be more sought after since China, the world’s leading producer of rare earths, has indicated it will be curtailing exports in order to meet and secure their domestic needs. The short fall in production from other countries in the world will lead to an upward pressure on commodity prices.

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