RARE EARTH METALS
What’s in news?
- 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.
- 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.
About Rare Earth Metals:
- The Rare Earths Minerals (REM) are a set of seventeen metallic elements.
- REM is defined by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.
- These include the fifteen lanthanides on the periodic table in addition to scandium and yttrium that show similar physical and chemical properties to the lanthanides.
- The REMs have unique catalytic, metallurgical, nuclear, electrical, magnetic and luminescent properties. While named ‘rare earth’, they are in fact not that rare and are relatively abundant in the Earth’s crust.
- Example: Lanthanum, Cerium, Praseodymium, Neodymium, Promethium, Samarium, Europium, Gadolinium, Terbium, Dysprosium, Holmium, Erbium, Thulium, Ytterbium, And Lutetium.
- Scandium is found in most rare earth element deposits and is sometimes classified as a rare earth element.
Strategic importance of REMs:
- They have distinctive electrical, metallurgical, catalytic, nuclear, magnetic and luminescent properties.
- Its usage ranges from daily use (e.g., lighter flints, glass polishing mediums, car alternators) to high-end technology (lasers, magnets, batteries, fibre-optic telecommunication cables).
- Even futuristic technologies need these REMs (For example high-temperature superconductivity, safe storage and transport of hydrogen for a post-hydrocarbon economy, environmental global warming and energy efficiency issues).
- Due to their unique magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties, they help in technologies perform with reduced weight, reduced emissions, and energy consumption; therefore, give them greater efficiency, performance, miniaturization, speed, durability, and thermal stability.
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