Countries Scramble for Rare Earth Elements

Rare earth elements or rare earth metals are giving most nations nightmares. The alarm over China's decision to cut down on shipments of these critical metals has spread globally as countries scramble to find alternative supplies by developing new mines around the world. China dominates the production of these metals with a 97% share in the global market.

Amongst those impacted include Japanese companies who have faced major cuts in the import of rare earth elements from China since July. A bilateral spat over a ship collision in the disputed waters in the East China Sea last month has made the situation even more critical for Japan. Japan is currently the world's largest importer of these rare earth elements.

A table listing the seventeen rare earth elements, their atomic number and symbol, and their main usages is provided here.

Symbol

Name

Selected Usages

Sc

Scandium

Aluminium-scandium alloy

Y

Yttrium

YAG garnet, YBCO high-temperature superconductors

La

Lanthanum

High refractive index glass, flint, hydrogen storage, battery-electrodes, camera lenses, fluid catalytic cracking catalyst for oil refineries

Ce

Cerium

Chemical oxidizing agent, polishing powder, yellow colors in glass and ceramics, catalyst for self-cleaning ovens fluid catalytic cracking catalyst for oil refineries, etc.

Pr

Praseodymium

Rare-earth magnets, lasers, green colors in glass and ceramics, flint

Nd

Neodymium

Rare-earth magnets, lasers, violet colors in glass and ceramics, ceramic capacitors

Pm

Promethium

Nuclear batteries

Sm

Samarium

Rare-earth magnets, lasers, neutron capture, masers

Eu

Europium

Red and blue phosphors, lasers, mercury-vapor lamps

Gd

Gadolinium

Rare-earth magnets, high refractive index glass or garnets, lasers, x-ray tubes, computer memories, neutron capture

Tb

Terbium

Green phosphors, lasers, fluorescent lamps

Dy

Dysprosium

Rare-earth magnets, lasers

Ho

Holmium

Laser

Er

Erbium

Lasers, vanadium steel

Tm

Thulium

Portable X-ray machines

Yb

Ytterbium

Infrared lasers, chemical reducing agent

Lu

Lutetium

Japan has received a ray of hope from Germany which has offered to help it get access to these elements. The German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle has said that he would be interested in joint efforts to explore for new resources of the minerals with Japan.

In the U.S. new legislation has been passed to support the discovery and development of new rare earth sites inside the U.S. in an effort to reduce the dependence on China for the materials. A potential rare earth mineral shortage may be devastating to several electronics related companies.

Joel Scanlon

Written by

Joel Scanlon

Joel, originally from the UK, emigrated to Australia in 1995 and spent 5 years working in the mining industry as an exploration Geo-technician where he developed skills in GIS Mapping and CAD. Joel also spent a year working underground in a gold/copper mine. Upon moving to the North Coast of NSW, Australia Joel worked as a graphic designer for a leading consultancy firm before starting a successful business providing graphic and web design services to local businesses on the eastern seaboard of Australia. Joel is skilled in project management, web programming, design, animation, database and networking, software and editing. Joel has been with AZoNetwork since its inception in 2000.

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