Posted by: drgeophysics | January 5, 2011

Rare Earth Elements

I have recently been involved in some work related to rare earth elements (REEs).  These are critically important materials to our modern life style.  How important? Very, very important.  They are now used in a surprisingly cross section of technology necessary for our society.  One example, every jet turbine blade requires a tiny amount to withstand the high temperatures and stresses in a modern engine.

For a review, you might read this excellent Popular Mechanics article and learn about the “big four”, Lanthanum, Europium, Erbium, and NeodymiumHere is the excellent article.

Need to look up other elements?  Why not use the cool LANL Chemistry Division Periodic Table of the Elements!  Here is the link, enjoy.

The Ames Laboratory of the US DOE has an excellent site summarizing the rate earth elements.  Here is the link. Good stuff.

Undoing approximately 20 years of policy, the US has realized that it requires access to these resources and has a problem.  Recently there was a CSIS conference in which the news that responsible government is once again needed was held. Here is the conference web site, I encourage you to listen to some of these videos. Regarding these resources, the hole we are in is about 10 to 20 years deep, another result of ignorance of the geological sciences in almost all levels of government and irresponsible policy.

The US DOE has released this 171 page report detailing the critical nature of Rare Earth Elements.  A press release and links to the full report and executive summary can be found here.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has also released a report detailing Rare Earth Elements.  Here is the web site with this report.

At the present time China produces approximately 97% of Rare Earth Elements.  Recent announcements of cuts in production are described in this Financial Times article. This has produced a rapid increase in the stock prices of companies in this area.  Does this represent another bubble?  Check this FT article for some details and thoughts.

There is a Japan-China dimension to some of this activity, it is highlighted in this FT article.

As usual naked capitalism jumps in with an excellent and thorough description regarding the obstacles to increasing Rare Earth production in the US.  Here is the article. This article follows a study by the technology review at MIT, which can be found here.

Next time you use any electronic device, drive in a car, or use a cell phone please thing for a moment of the rare earth elements which make these technologies possible.




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