Coal and Mining Sector

Rare Earths Elements

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rare earth elements and thier applications

Mains level : US-China trade war


The US Army plans to fund the construction of a Rare Earths processing facility to secure the domestic supply of minerals that are used to make military weapons and electronics.

This will be the first financial investment by the US military into commercial-scale Rare Earths production since the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb during World War II.

Why such move?

  • The decision comes after China threatened to stop exporting Rare Earth materials to the US amid the ongoing trade war between the countries.
  • At present, China refines approximately 80%-90% of the world’s Rare Earths, thereby having substantial control over their supply.
  • While Rare Earth elements are used in building consumer electronics, in healthcare and transportation, they are especially important for governments because of their use in manufacturing defence equipment.

Rare Earths Elements

  • Rare Earth Elements or Rare Earth Metals are a set of 17 chemical elements in the periodic table — the 15 lanthanides, plus scandium and yttrium.
  • The 17 Rare Earths are cerium (Ce), dysprosium (Dy), erbium (Er), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), holmium (Ho), lanthanum (La), lutetium (Lu), neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), scandium (Sc), terbium (Tb), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), and yttrium (Y).
  • They tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides, and have similar chemical properties.
  • Despite their classification, most of these elements are not really “rare”.
  • One of the Rare Earths, promethium, is radioactive.
  • According to the Rare Earth Technology Alliance (RETA), the estimated size of the Rare Earth sector is between $10 billion and $15 billion.
  • About 100,000-110,000 tonnes of Rare Earth elements are produced annually around the world.

Uses

  • These elements are important in technologies of consumer electronics, computers and networks, communications, clean energy, advanced transportation, healthcare, environmental mitigation, and national defence, among others.
  • Scandium is used in televisions and fluorescent lamps, and yttrium is used in drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
  • Rare Earth elements are used in space shuttle components, jet engine turbines, and drones.
  • Cerium, the most abundant Rare Earth element, is essential to NASA’s Space Shuttle Programme.
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