FACTBOX-How various industries use rare earth elements

Tue Dec 28, 2010 7:56pm GMT

 Dec 28 (Reuters) - Rare earth elements are in the the
forefront of global worries over fears that China's policy of
curbing exports will increasingly cause shortages in other
industrialized economies, given its status as the dominant
global supplier.
 China announced on Tuesday it will cut its export quotas
for rare earth minerals by more than 11 percent in the first
half of 2011, further shrinking supplies of metals needed to
make a range of high-tech products after Beijing slashed quotas
for 2010.
 Despite their name, rare earth elements are a relatively
abundant group of 17 chemical elements. They were originally
described as rare because they were unknown in their elemental
form and difficult to extract from the rocks that contained
 Here is a summary of rare earth industrial applications and
some key areas where they are employed:
 Catalysts - Petroleum cracking catalysts and auto catalysts
use lanthanum and cerium.
 Glass - Cerium is the major constituent of this sector,
where it is used in ultra-violet light filtering.
 Polishing - A rapidly growing sector that is based on the
unique chemical and mechanical properties of cerium in the
polishing of glass, including multi-level electronic
 Metal Alloys - Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries are
the key driver of demand and could put pressure on lanthanum
 Magnets - Currently, the most dynamic market for rare
earths with growth in demand increasing at 15 percent a year
for the past 10 years, causing neodymium and terbium to
increase by more than 40 percent over the past 12 months.
 Phosphors - Necessary for the production of phosphors for
TVs and energy-efficient lamps. This is the smallest sector by
volume (only 6-8 percent) but the largest sector by value
(30-40 percent) as europium and terbium are among the rarest of
rare earths.
 Ceramics - Yttrium stabilized zirconia is used throughout
the resources industry where a material with high-wear
resistance is required.
 Lanthanum night-vision goggles
 Neodymium laser range-finders, guidance systems,
 Europium fluorescents and phosphors in lamps and monitors
 Erbium amplifiers in fiber-optic data transmission
 Samarium permanent magnets that are stable at high
 Samarium precision-guided weapons
 Samarium "white noise" production in stealth technology
 Rare earth magnets are widely used in wind turbines. Some
large turbines require two short tonnes of rare earth magnets,
which are very strong and make the turbines highly efficient.
Rare earth magnets are used in turbines and generators in many
alternative energy applications.
 Every hybrid-electric and electric vehicle has a large
battery which is made using several pounds of rare earth
compounds. The use of electric vehicles is expected to increase
rapidly, driven by energy independence, climate change and
other concerns. This is a key growth area for rare earths.
 Rechargeable batteries used in mobile phone and portable
computers require rare earths, which were the key to smaller
more efficient battery technology.
 Country      Production (Metric Ton)  Reserves (Metric
 United States   insignificant          13,000,000
 Australia       insignificant           5,400,000
 Brazil          650                        48,000
 China           120,000                36,000,000
 CIS             not available          19,000,000
 India           2,700                   3,100,000
 Malaysia        380                        30,000
 Others          not available          22,000,000
 World total    124,000 (rounded)       99,000,000
 Source: Arafura Resources Ltd, USGS, Thomson Reuters
 (Compiled by James Regan, Editing by Vicki Allen)

  • Africa
  • US
  • Europe
  • Asia
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