Two good reasons to understand rare earth elements (REEs)
- August 11, 2022
- Posted by: Madrigal Admin
- Categories: Tender News, Word of the Week Blog
WHY ARE RARE EARTH ELEMENTS IMPORTANT?
No doubt you have recently read or heard about rare earth elements (REEs) or rare earth metals. They are becoming an important aspect of our lives for two reasons: firstly, they are an important requirement in components of electric vehicles and wind turbines; and secondly, the majority of the worldwide production of REEs comes from China. These are two very good reasons to acquaint yourself with them.
The REEs are a set of 17 elements (or metals). They share similar properties and are usually found together in geological deposits.
WHAT ARE REES USED FOR?
REEs are necessary components of hundreds of modern high-tech products such as mobile phones, electric vehicles (EVs), cordless tools, hard-disk-drives and robotics. They are also needed for defence applications such as electronic displays, guidance systems, lasers, and radar and sonar systems.
Rare earth elements are used in the manufacture of permanent magnets. The key rare metals for permanent magnets (the magic four as they have been called) are:
- neodymium (Nd)
- praseodymium (Pr)
- dysprosium (Dy)
- terbium (Tb)
The key REE in a permanent magnet is neodymium. It is mixed with iron (Fe) and boron (B) to create NIB magnets (more scientifically called NdFeB magnets but I can’t think why you would). Adding praseodymium to the alloy improves corrosion resistance with little reduction to magnetic performance. Adding terbium and dysprosium improves magnetic performance at high temperatures.
WHY ARE THEY CALLED RARE EARTH ELEMENTS?
REEs are not that rare but they are found in low concentrations and the refinement processes are difficult. The REEs can be found in mineral sands, hard rock or in clay—each needing different processes to extract the REEs.
WHERE DO REES COME FROM?
In 1993, 38 per cent of world production of REEs was in China, 33% in the US, 12% in Australia, and 5% each in Malaysia and India. Brazil, Canada, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Thailand made up the remainder.
By 2008, China accounted for more than 90% of world production and by 2011, 97%. Beginning in 1990 supply of REEs has become an issue as China began to reduce the amount it allows to be produced and exported (source—US Geological Survey).
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR AUSTRALIA?
The electric vehicle (EV) and renewable energy market is driving higher demand for rare earth elements mostly for use in the magnets that feature in electric motors and generators.
Australian companies such as Lynas Rare Earths, Iluka Resources and Arafura Resources are developing production and refineries to exploit our REE deposits while others are exploring for viable deposits.
It is an exciting time.