There are 17 elements found on the earth that are classified as rare earth elements (REE). While the word "rare” may make you think that these elements are scarce, they are in fact found all over our planet but typically in small amounts. The term "rare earth” comes from their initial discovery in which only tiny portions of these minerals could be isolated from larger quantities of still more common elements.
Today, "rare earth” is used to describe any of the 15 metallic chemical elements with atomic numbers from 57 to 71 (called "lanthanides”) and the chemically similar elements scandium and yttrium.
The global demand for rare earths has increased as more uses for these elements are found. Today there are hundreds of uses for REE, ranging from high tech (lasers, camera lenses, computer memory modules, x-ray machines), energy (batteries, lamps, superconductors) and industrial (aerospace, caustic cleaning agents, specialized glass) applications.
|21||Scandium||Sc||Aerospace framework, high-intensity street lamps, high performance equipment|
|39||Yttrium||Y||TV sets, cancer treatment drugs, enhances strength of alloys|
|57||Lanthanum||La||Camera lenses, battery-electrodes, hydrogen storage|
|58||Cerium||Ce||Catalytic converters, colored glass, steel production|
|59||Praseodymium||Pr||Super-strong magnets, welding goggles, lasers|
|60||Neodymium||Nd||Extremely strong permanent magnets, microphones, electric motors of hybrid automobiles, laser|
|61||Promethium||Pm||Not usually found in Nature|
|62||Samarium||Sm||Cancer treatment, nuclear reactor control rods, X-ray lasers|
|63||Europium||Eu||Color TV screens, fluorescent glass, genetic screening tests|
|64||Gadolinium||Gd||Shielding in nuclear reactors, nuclear marine propulsion, increases durability of alloys|
|65||Terbium||Tb||TV sets, fuel cells, sonar systems|
|66||Dysprosium||Dy||Commercial lighting, hard disk devices, transducers|
|67||Holmium||Ho||Lasers, glass coloring, High-strength magnets|
|68||Erbium||Er||Glass colorant, signal amplification for fiber optic cables, metallurgical uses|
|69||Thulium||Tm||High efficiency lasers, portable x-ray machines, high temperature superconductor|
|70||Ytterbium||Yb||Improves stainless steel, lasers, ground monitoring devices|
|71||Lutetium||Lu||Refining petroleum, LED light bulbs, integrated circuit manufacturing|
(Z = Atomic Number)
Elements 29, 61 = Rare Earths
Elements 57 – 60, 62 = Light Rare Earth Elements
Elements 39, 63 – 71 = Heavy Rare Earth Elements
Rare earths elements are also being used for a growing number of applications. At the forefront of this wave of discovery are new technologies being developed for computer science uses, industrial engineering, renewable energy sciences and military applications.
Here are a few examples of how rare earth elements are being utilized in the world today:
Other interesting facts about uses for rare earths: