Global use of REE
Over the course of twenty years, when global production of REE became concentrated in China, science unlocked the unique characteristics of these minerals by demonstrating their invaluable use in high technology products, electronics miniaturization and energy efficiency applications. Consequent to the important role played by these materials in modern technologies, they are often referred to as "technology metals".
REE are subdivided into "Light" and "Heavy" elements that reflect their atomic numbers. The Light REE (LREE) are comprised of the elements Lanthium through to and including Samarium plus Scandium. The Heavy REE (HREE) are comprised of the elements Europium through to and including Ytterbium plus Yttrium. HREE plus Neodymium comprise roughly 5% of most rare earth deposits and are the elements considered essential to most high technology and energy efficiency applications. Some experts divide REE into light (La, Ce, Pr, and Nd), medium (Pr, Sm, Eu and Gd) and heavy (the rest including Y, with Sc on its own).
The term rare earth is actually a misnomer. These elements are found in low concentrations throughout the Earths crust and in higher concentrations in numerous minerals, particularly; bastnasite, monazite, xenotime and ion adsorption clays. However, concentrations of rare earth elements only range from ten to a few hundred parts per million by weight. Finding them in concentrations where they can be economically mined and processed presents a considerable challenge.
REE comprise a unique group of chemicals that exhibit a range of special electronic, magnetic, optical and catalytic properties. REE are indispensable components with no adequate substitutes in clean energy, high technology products and defence technologies and thus are fundamental to the energy and national security prospects of the world's leading economies. Although the global rare earth market is relatively small (about 115,000 tonnes per year valued at US$4-6 billion), rare earths are essential to key industries worth more than $4.8 trillion.
Global experts agree that the future demand for critical rare earth elements will be dependant upon their use in miniaturization (high demand for lighter, smaller, smarter electronic devices), clean technology (emission standards), and energy and fuel efficiency (smaller and more efficient motors).
Other Uses of REE