A Look Inside Rare Earths

The 15 lanthanides on the period table, along with scandium and yttrium, are commonly known as rare earth elements (REEs), and, as this infographic shows, China dominates the global supply. Found in batteries, wind turbines, computer chips and other technologies that power our lives, REEs are in ever-greater demand – and, fortunately, they aren't actually that rare. The challenge is to find well-concentrated deposits. Mines are now opening around the world (and possibly even beyond!) to commence the search, while alternative strategies like electronics recycling are also part of the effort to extract these valuable rare earths.

Global Demand for Rare Earth Elements

Global demandWorld demand for rare earth elements is estimated at 136,000 tons per year, with global production around 133,600 tons in 2010. The difference is covered by previously mined above-ground stocks.


Common Products Rely on Rare Earths

High-tech products and renewable energy technology cannot function without rare earth metals.



Electronics Recycling

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 2009, 2.37 million tons of electronics were discarded, but only 25% was recycled. The European Union recently enacted new e-waste recycling rules requiring member states to recycle 45% of all electronic equipment sold starting in 2016, rising to 65% by 2019.

Asteroid Mining

AsteroidsPlanetary Resources aims to mine the "easily accessible" 1,500 asteroids orbiting Earth. The company contends that platinum group metals can be found in much higher concentrations on some asteroids than in Earth's richest mines.

Access all five parts of our Rare Earth Elements Series

Part 1:

Satisfying the Rare Earth Shortfall
Part 2:

The New Gold Grey Rush – Seeking out untapped rare earth deposits
Part 3:

Finding New Sources
Part 4:

Substitution 
Part 5:

Betting on REE Recycling


References:

U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2014
http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs/2014/mcs2014.pdf (pgs. 128-29)

Mark Humphries, Rare Earth Elements: The Global Supply Chain, December 16, 2013,
http://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R41347.pdf

"Rare earth metals: Will we have enough?", Renee Cho, September 19, 2012
http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/09/19/rare-earth-metals-will-we-have-enough/

"EU activates new e-waste recycling rules", UPI, August 15, 2012
http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2012/08/15/EU-activates-new-e-waste-recycling-rules/UPI- 65871345026600/

U.S. Department of Energy
http://energy.gov/maps/estimated-rare-earth-reserves-and-deposits

"Issues with development of rare earth industry", Vietnam Breaking News, November 18, 2013
http://www.vietnambreakingnews.com/2013/11/issues-with-development-of-rare-earth-industry/

Mission 2016: The Future of Strategic Natural Resources, Opening New Mines: The Process of Mining REEs and other Strategic Elements
http://web.mit.edu/12.000/www/m2016/finalwebsite/solutions/newmines.html

Mission 2016: The Future of Strategic Natural Resources, Rare Earths Supply and Demand: Will future supply be able to meet future demand
http://web.mit.edu/12.000/www/m2016/finalwebsite/problems/ree.html

www.elsevier.com/hightech