What is rare earth?

Samarium metalRare-earth metals include the following elements with their respective atomic numbers: scandium (Sc-21), yttrium (Y-39) and the lanthanides — lanthanum (La-57), cerium (Ce-58), praseodymium (Pr-59), neodymium (Nd-60), promethium (Pm-61), samarium (Sm-62), europium (Eu-63), gadolinium (Gd-64), terbium (Tb-65), dysprosium (Dy-66), holmium (Ho-67), erbium (Er-68), thulium (Tm-69), ytterbium (Yb-70), and lutetium (Lu-71). Scandium and yttrium are considered rare earth elements because they have similar chemical properties and often occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides.

Rare earth metals, despite its name, are not rare (with the exception of the radioactive promethium) and they are not “earth”. In fact they are relatively plentiful in the Earth's crust. The most abundant rare earth metals are cerium, yttrium, lanthanum and neodymium. However, these metals are very difficult to mine because the concentrations are normally too low for economical extraction.

China is currently the world's dominant producer and consumer of rare earth elements. China accounted for about 57% of the world's rare earth mine production and 85% of rare earth oxides production in 2020 although China has just over 1/3 of the world known deposits of rare earth minerals. There are a number of rare earth mines outside China including MP Materials, USA and Lynas Corporation, Australia.

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