February 16, 2013

Information for this posting, in part, is derived from the following source:  EE&T (Energy Efficiency & Technology), July/August 2012 issue.

It is no secret that rare earth metals have become indispensable for the emerging clean-energy economy.  For example, the magnets in many state-of-the-art wind turbines and electric vehicles use rare earth praseodyminum, neodyminum, and dysprosium.  The real problem –many of these materials come from parts of the world that have political tensions with the United States.   The topic of avoiding rare earth supply shortages is now uppermost in the minds of many manufacturers and the Department of Energy.   If we look at where rare earth materials are used, we find the following:

  • Chemical catalysts—22%
  • Metallurgical applications and alloys—21%
  • Petroleum refining catalysts—14%
  •  Automotive catalytic converters—13%
  • Glass polishing and ceramics—9%
  • Phosphors for computer monitors, lighting , television—8%
  •   Permanent magnets—7%
  • Electronics—3%
  • Other—3%

The rare earth metals are called the Lanthanides.   There are seventeen (17) receiving this classification.  These are as follows:


















The Periodic Table for these elements may be seen as follows:

Periodic Table of Elements

There are several materials actually on the endangered or critical list: Neodymium, dysprosium, ytterbium and terbium.  Considerable work is being done to store existing and available supplies for future use.


These elements are very difficult to separate because of their chemical make up.  Monazite and bastnasite are the two main mineral sources of rare earth metals, with bastnasite mining in California now resurging as a major U.S. resource base.


Mining and processing are anything but simple:  ore is crushed, ground, classified, and concentrated by flotation.  It then undergoes an acid (HCI) digestion to produce several rare earth chlorides; this slurry is then filtered to produce hydroxide cakes, which are then chlorinated to convert the hydroxides to chlorides.  Final filtration and evaporation yields the solid rare earth chloride products.  These chlorides then undergo further processing to produce individual metal compounds ready for use.


One idea relative to usage is trying to discover ways to recycle the materials, thus extending usage.   Unfortunately, precious little is taking place at the moment with regard to recycling although some research is underway to investigate how to recycle scrap found in discarded electronics and retired wind turbines.   Amount the organizations exploring recycling is the Center for Resource Recovery and Recycling (CR 3), started by the National Science Foundation.  This group is  involved with researching how to develop new technologies for maximizing the recovery and recycling of metals used in manufactured products and structures, including separation, processing, and recycling.  There seemingly are no real efforts being expended to investigate alternate materials to the Lanthanide group.  This, in my opinion is very regrettable.


I will definitely keep you posted relative to any developments regarding discovery, recycling and substitution of these materials.





  1. Thanks so much for the article.Really thank you! Cool.


    • cielotech Says:

      Hello weightlossruner. I try to keep up with Rare Earth Materials. It is a fascinating subject and on very important to technology in countries over the world. Again, many thanks. Bob J.


  2. I cannot thank you enough for the blog article.


    • cielotech Says:

      Hello Wilfredo. Thank you so much for your very kind words. I am certainly happy you took a look and hope you will return. This, to me, is a fascinating subject and one I will follow closely. I’ve been writing for about five years now–hopefully getting better at it. Take care. B.


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