What are Rare Earth Elements ?

Rare Earth Elements (REE) are a collection of 30 chemical elements within the periodic table and commonly subdivided into the series of lanthanides and actinides.
The term "Rare Earth" arises from the minerals from which they were first isolated (end of 18th century), which were uncommon oxide-type minerals (earths) found in Gadolinite extracted from one mine in the village of Ytterby, Sweden.
Despite their relative abundance at the surface of our planet, Rare Earth Elements  have much less tendency to become concentrated in exploitable ore deposits and consequently their occurrences are more selective.
REEs are commercialized principally as oxides (REO) with different degrees of purity. Though, they can also be found in form of metals whose characteristics are very much wanted as they increase the performance of high tech components like permanent magnets, lasers, catalysts, fuel cells, super conductors, secondary batteries etc.
The industry already adopted REE in order to replace traditional metals, frequently precious metals, whose resources get depleted fairly quickly in face of an increasing demand from strongly growing markets.
Today we witness a very dynamic evolution in materials utilized in industrial production coping with ever increasing standards of quality resulting from new technological needs and latest environmental regulations.
Due to the nature of technical applications, REE’s are considered as environmental friendly compounds and are commonly associated within the "green metals" category.
More explicitly, they respond to highly specific attributes, which are essential for shaping modern and future technologies applied to the

  • energy (wind power generator, La-Ni-H batteries, magnetic refrigeration, fluid cracking catalysts),
  • transport (catalytic converter, hybrid vehicles, electric bicycles),
  • high-tech-nano (Magnets, LCD panel displays, iPods, MP3 players, Lasers, glass, ceramics)
  • agriculture industry (natural feed additive).

Nowadays the inflection point of Rare Earth Elements gets reached where the supply/demand parameter slips into a supply deficit.
Last but not least, REE is a clearly strategic issue and it is highly concerning that China that generates currently 97% of the world REE production projects to absorb all of its own REE by 2012.