Rare earth elements

  • It is also known as a rare earth and is comprised of 17 elements in the periodic table.
  • Of these, 15 are from the lanthanide group of elements in the ‘f’ block of the periodic table.
  • Yttrium and scandium, while not part of the lanthanide group, are also considered rare earths because they share similar chemical properties.

Rare earths are divided into two distinct groups

  • Heavy rare earth elements (HREEs)
  • light rare earth elements (LREEs).

Importance of Rare Earth Metals

Rare earth metals play a key role in our daily lives because of their broad application in cleaner technologies, computing, automotive, entertainment, medical, and military fields. In many cases, there is no alternative to rare earths in manufacturing these products.

  • China is the major supplier of rare earths, providing between 90 and 95% of the global market. India and the US, once leading global suppliers, still produce some rare earth products, but their contributions are now dwarfed by China’s huge hold over the market.
  • In 2010, China significantly restricted its rare earth exports. That was done to ensure a supply of rare earths for domestic manufacturing and for environmental reasons. This shift by China triggered panic buying, and some rare earth prices shot up exponentially.
  • In addition, Japan, the United States, and the European Union complained to the World Trade Organisation about China’s restrictive rare earth trade policies.

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