WHAT ARE RARE EARTHS?
“Rare earth elements” (REEs) refers to a group of seventeen unique chemical elements: the lanthanides, which are comprised of fifteen elements, plus scandium and yttrium which are grouped alongside the lanthanides on account of their similar physical and chemical properties”.
Lanthanides or rare earths are often divided into two subgroups based on atomic weight: Light Rare Earths (Lanthanum, Cerium, Praseodymium, Neodymium, Promethium, and Samarium) and Heavy Rare Earths (Europium, Gadolinium, Terbium, Dysprosium, Holmium, Erbium, Tulium, Ytterbium and Lutetium), to which are added scandium and yttrium for their similar properties.
Importantly, the unique chemical and physical properties of Lanthanides have positioned them as a critical material in a number of rapidly evolving markets and industrial applications.
USES OF LANTHANIDES
Lanthanides are present in most of the devices that we use on a daily basis: they are used in the development of our smartphones, computers, tablets and more fundamentally they are key elements in the development of electromobility, since they are used in the manufacture of vehicles hybrid and electric. Furthermore, these minerals are used to create wind turbines, solar panels, lasers, and various machines and medical treatments, among others. All of the above makes them the most strategic minerals in the world today.
It should be noted that the main application of these elements is through the so-called Rare Earth Magnets, a powerful permanent magnet made with alloys of these elements. There are two main types: neodymium magnets and samarium-cobalt magnets.
These are currently the strongest type of permanent magnet, producing significantly stronger magnetic fields than other types such as ferrite or alnico magnets.
Lanthanides have many scientific and industrial uses. Its compounds are used as catalysts in the production of petroleum and synthetic products, but also in film projectors and X-ray intensifying screens.
Below, we share other of the many uses of Rare Earths:
- Petrochemical processes
- Hard drives
- CD players
- Televisions and screens (green is produced with terbium and red with europium)
- Banknote authenticity
- Haute couture (replacement of plastic buttons with neodymium parts)
- Optics and polishing of glasses and crystals
- LED lamps
- Optical fiber
- Cathode tubes
- Magnetic resonance imaging for diagnosis
- Planes, ships and submarines
It should be noted that some Rare Earth applications are still under experimentation. Despite this, it is a reality that today they are technologically vital elements and a source of human well-being, considering their various uses.
RARE EARTHS INDUSTRY
Rare earths demand is driven, in large part, by two of the fastest-growing sectors on the planet: energy and high technology.
In the energy square, neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium are used in the manufacturing of rechargeable batteries, hybrid/electric cars, and wind turbines.
Cerium and lanthanum are used in fluid cracking catalysts and catalytic converters. In the high tech sector, elements like europium and yttrium are used in flat panel displays, lasers and radars.
Neodymium, praseodymium, yttrium, europium and terbium have substitutes but they are not as effective and other elements have none at all in specific applications. Unlike base metals, new applications are also being constantly developed for rare earths given their unique attributes.
Considering the above, it is expected that in the medium term:
- Demand for permanent magnets will increasing due to emerging green technologies for wind turbines and electric / hybrid vehicles, leading to strong growth in praseodymium and neodymium.
- The demand for neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium will grow strongly until 2020. From 2020 to 2025 the growth rate of world demand will accelerate, which will translate into a significant increase in annual demand by 2025. This increase will only it can be supplemented by continuous and accelerated development of new mines.
- The demand for NdFeB magnets in end-use products such as windmills, electric motors, electric bikes, and external hard drives will increase significantly – Source: Adamas Intelligence.
- The global market for lanthanide magnets is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 13.2% to reach $ 41.41 million in 2022 – Source: Infoholic Research.
Image: BioLantanidos Rare Earth Concentrate