Rare Earth Metals Not So Rare but Valuable

Nov. 04, 2008 5:54 PM ETACHHY, LYSCF, GRA11 Comments
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The rare earth metals are, in fact, not that rare.

The most commonly occurring rare earth metals - cerium, lanthanum, neodymium and yttrium - are actually more common in the Earth's crust than lead. And even silver.

While cerium, the most abundant rare earth metal, is more prevalent (60 parts per million (ppm)) than copper, even lutetium (0.5 ppm) and thulium (0.5 ppm), the least abundant, are to be found in the Earth's crust in greater quantities than antimony, bismuth, cadmium and thallium. (The outlier is promethium, which, it appears, is not to be found in the Earth's crust, and which is only used in compound form, of which, to date, some 30 have been prepared.)

Abundance of Elements In The Earth's Crust

Note: Abundance (atom fraction) of the chemical elements in Earth's upper continental crust as a function of atomic number.

Many of the elements are classified into (partially overlapping) categories: (1) rock-forming elements (major elements in green field and minor elements in light green field); (2) rare earth elements (lanthanides, La-Lu, and Y; labeled in blue); (3) major industrial metals (global production > ~3x107 kg/year; labeled in bold); (4) precious metals (italic); and (5) the nine rarest "metals" - the six platinum group elements plus Au, Re, and Te (a metalloid).

Source: USGS

So, why are they called the "rare earth" metals? Probably from the uncommon oxide-type minerals, or earths, from which they were originally extracted. The corollary to their abundance is, however, the fact that, to date, their "discovered minable concentrations are less common than for most other ores."

What Are The Rare Earth Metals?

The rare earth metals (aka, REM, rare earth elements [REE] or, sometimes, just rare earths) are a group of 15 chemically similar elements (grouped separately in the periodic table) known as lanthanides. Commercially, the rare earth grouping usually also includes scandium and yttrium, both of

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