Rare Earth Elements (REEs) seem to be in the news again. The uncertainty surrounding metals demand, the mining market, and China’s economy all affect the value of rare earth elements. What isn’t uncertain though is that the demand for them will continue to increase. REEs have diverse applications that touch many aspects of modern life. With the rapid rise in demand for electronics in the automotive, military, clean energy, and medical industries – and the continuous innovation involved in “the internet of things” – many people predict there will be a rise in the mining of rare earths.
But do you even know what rare earth elements are?
According to the USGS, “The rare earths are a relatively abundant group of 17 elements composed of scandium, yttrium, and the lanthanides. (Try naming all 17 before looking at the chart below.) The elements range in crustal abundance from cerium, the 25th most abundant element of the 78 common elements in the Earth’s crust at 60 parts per million, to thulium and lutetium, the least abundant rare-earth elements at about 0.5 part per million. The elemental forms of rare earths are iron gray to silvery lustrous metals that are typically soft, malleable, and ductile and usually reactive, especially at elevated temperatures or when finely divided.”
And they are really not rare. They are just rarely mined because finding concentrations that are economically minable is unusual. Do you know all 17 elements? It’s a little tricky since one of them is usually not included because it is rare and unstable* and another does not occur in economic concentrations in the same geological settings**. Here they are in order of their atomic number on the periodic table.
Portable x-ray fluorescence (PXRF) analyzers are valuable tools to the mining community. Portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) technology can be used in a wide range of mineralogical and geological exploration markets, one of which is the mining of Rare Earth Elements (REEs).
REEs rarely exist in pure form; they are usually concentrated in more than one mineral, and each mineral requires a different costly extraction technology and mineral processing. Geochemical exploration is the main method of REE exploration. Depending on the REE project type, portable XRF analyzers are useful instruments that can provide real-time, on-site assays of REEs and other elements in any type of geological samples.
So how did you do? Could you name all 17 before reading the article? Comment below and let us know.