A Sustainable Future

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) provides the definition of the ‘rare earth elements’ or REEs as a set of the seventeen chemical elements found in the Periodic Table of Elements that include all the lanthanides series, Scandium, and Yttrium. These are coined ‘rare’ since they are inclined to come from the same ore deposits and have the same chemical properties.

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Photo: wikipedia.org

There is now a great demand for rare earth minerals as they are used for myriads of applications such as hybrid cars, wind turbines, nuclear power plant, coal-fired plant, and other personal effects like laptops and cellphones. These minerals, which were once thought of as ‘rare’, are very much abundant in nature. They are considered rare because they usually mixed with other minerals, never in pure form, thus making them extra costly to extract.

The pricing for rare earth elements is different from the other precious metals like gold and silver. These are sold privately, so it is very hard to track their prices. In addition, prices can also vary because they are distributed in varying forms of purity. Therefore, pricing varies on the quality and quantity required by the buyer. If you are interested to know though, mineralprices.com periodically published the pricing to give you at least an idea.

Today, China holds the number position when it comes to rare earth production, though the United States has the largest deposits outside China. However, US is not going on a full-swing operation because of the environmental concerns that arise from refining and extracting processes. Because of China’s tightened regulation, new demands are straining the supply.

According to the Wikipedia, the demand will exceed the supply by 40,000 tons annually unless new sources are developed. To solve this dilemma, a form of solution came from recycling the rare earths from electronic waste. Factories in Japan and France are cropping up to produce tons of rare earths from magnets, fluorescent lamps, and batteries.

Many countries are hesitant to explore their rare earth reserves because of the environmental concerns, where toxic byproducts of mining called ‘tailings’ are passed down to earth that can contaminate the soil and groundwater sources. People living near the mines also experienced life-threatening illnesses that they believed is caused by the mining and refining process of rare earths.

Rare earth elements have their eco-friendly side, too; thus the growing demands. They are very significant for hybrid cars and wind turbines, energy-efficient fluorescent lamps, aside from their low-toxicity advantage. They are slowly phasing out toxic batteries and dyes, which is good for the environment.

Another best solution to the major problems associated with rare earths, is a company like Rare Earths Lynas, which is committed to provide security, quality, and long-term sustainability in its bid to supply the growing demands of rare earths worldwide.