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Rare Earth Element Applications

Rare earth elements have drawn worldwide attention in recent months, with uncertainty from the world’s largest producer, China, making investors uneasy about products and industries that require these substances.

Rare earth elements are a collection of seventeen members of the periodic table, as defined by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, but the name is somewhat misleading.

Composed mostly of members of the Periodic table’s lanthanide series, rare earths are similar in abundance as more familiar elements such as copper, nickel or zinc, while even the least abundant naturally occurring rare earths are 200 times more common than gold.

However, rare earth elements are only found in commercially viable amounts in several areas of the world. This situation has been compounded by Chinese production that has undercut costs of production in the US, by way of lower labor costs and less stringent environmental regulation. Once self-sufficient in rare earth production, sites in the US such as the Mountain Pass Mine in California’s Mojave Desert operates far below capacity, according to the USGS, for these environmental and economic concerns.

With uncertainty in the global rare earth markets, it pays to know what the rare earth elements are, and what they do. Click ahead for an element-by-element breakdown of the rare earth elements and how they are used in today’s economy.

By Paul ToscanoPosted Nov 5 2010

Photo: Alexander C. Wimmer | Wikicommons