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RARE EARTHS

  • Rare Earths
  • Mines Producing Rare Earths

Rare Earth is looked on by many as the resource of the future and Australia is well placed to be able to supply a growing world demand as it has the world's second largest rare earth resource base, only behind that of China.


Rare Earth is considered to consist of 15 lanthanide chemical elements: lanthanum, lutetium, ytterbium, thulium, promethium, praseodymium, cerium, erbium, holmium, dysprosium, terbium, gadolinium, europium, samarium and neodymium. Two other elements, scandium and yttrium, have similar properties to the 15 lanthanide elements and are therefore accepted make a total of 17 Rare Earth elements overall.


Market and resource details refer to the Rare Earth elements in their oxide forms which results in the elements being discussed as Rare Earth Oxides (REO). Rare Earths are actually part of a wider spectrum of Rare Metals that include materials such as: gallium, niobium, tantalum and sometimes lithium.


Rare Earth is used in the manufacturing of devices and products that offer great environmental benefits that are important to the emergence of new technologies such as the following:
Hybrid motor vehicles
Re-chargeable batteries
Mobile phones
LCD and plasma screens
Lap top computers
Catalytic converters
Disk drives


Rare Earth elements make the strongest permanent magnets in the world. These magnets are used in electric motors as they produce greater torque and power. This means less material is required in their manufacture and the motors can be made smaller and lighter. A key necessity in the electric motors used in hybrid vehicles. These powerful magnets also allow for miniaturisation of hard disk drives. The Rare Earth elements with these unique magnetic properties are dysprosium and neodymium.


The Rare Earth element, lanthanum, is the main component that powers rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries. This is the battery used in hybrid cars and other electronic products. A Rare Earth metal alloy makes up the anode of the battery that accounts for 26 percent of its weight.


Cerium is the Rare Earth element used in catalytic converters in motor cars. The catalytic converter reduces nitrogen oxides, that are quite toxic, to harmless oxygen and nitrogen, it oxidises carbon monoxide, that is also quite toxic, to carbon dioxide as well as oxidising un-burnt hydrocarbons.


China has historically been the world's prominent supplier of Rare Earth, but it has now reached the position where it needs all it can produce for its own domestic market. This has opened up a new market for Australia and as it has the world's second largest Rare Earth resource outside of China, it will find itself in an envious position as world market demand grows.


Three major factors have placed Australia in this position, these are:
1. China can no longer control the world price of Rare Earth as it is having trouble keeping up with its own internal demand

2. Australia is on the verge of becoming a major supplier of Rare Earth oxide concentrate

3. Australian companies hold almost as much Rare Earth element resources as China does


The worlds richest Rare Earth deposit is at Mt Weld in Western Australia.
 

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