In both traditional as well as low-carbon technologies, the rare earth elements are used as catalysts and magnets. The rare earth elements are also used in the manufacture of specific glass, metal alloys, and high-performance electronics.
Strong magnets made of samarium (Sm) and neodymium (Nd) alloys can endure high temperatures, making them suitable for a wide range of mission-critical electronics and defense applications.
An alloy of neodymium, iron, and boron is the strongest known magnet. Adding other REEs like dysprosium and praseodymium to magnets can alter their performance and characteristics. These magnets and elements are required by hybrid and electric car engines, wind turbine generators, portable electronics, hard disks, and cell phones. Because of their technological importance, several countries are concerned about their mining and refinement.
One megawatt of the wind energy capacity, for example, uses 171 kg of rare earth, while a single F-35 fighter plane uses 427 kg, as well as a Virginia-class nuclear submarine, utilizes nearly 4.2 tonnes.
Rare Earth Mineral Reserves Around the World
With 44 million tons of reserves as well as 140,000 tons of yearly mine production, China does top the list for rare earth element mine production and reserves. Even though Brazil and Vietnam have the third and second largest reserves of rare-earth metals, with 21 million tons and 22 million tons, respectively, their mine output is among the weakest of all nations, at about 1,000 tons for each year. While the US has 1.5 million tons of deposits, it is heavily reliant on Chinese imports for refined rare earths.
Providing for a Global Supply
China’s supremacy in the rare earth business is no accident. Years of industrial and research strategy have helped the country gain a competitive advantage in the market, and it now has the capacity to regulate the production and global availability of these precious metals.
Because of the tight control over the supply of these critical metals, the rest of the world is scrambling to find their sources. China’s share of world output has declined from 92 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2020, thanks to the commencement of mining activities in other nations. China, on the other hand, has a solid supply chain, producing 85 percent of the world’s refined rare earths in the year 2020.
Only six state-owned enterprises are given production quotas in China: China Minmetals Rare Earth Co, Xiamen Tungsten, China Southern Rare Earth Group, China Northern Rare Earth Group, Chinalco Rare Earth & Metals Co and Guangdong Rising Nonferrous.
The globe will need to tap these reserves as demand for REEs rises. In both traditional and low-carbon technologies, rare earth elements are used as catalysts and magnets. Rare earth elements are also used in the manufacture of specific metal alloys, glass, as well as high-performance electronics.