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Current Affairs

Rare Earth minerals

Date: 12 December 2019 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

The United States Army is planning to fund the construction of a Rare Earths processing facility to secure the domestic supply of minerals that are used to make military weapons and electronics.

 

Background

This will be the first financial investment by the US military into commercial-scale Rare Earths production since the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb during World War II.

 

Details

  • The decision comes after China threatened to stop exporting Rare Earth materials to the US amid the ongoing trade war between the countries. 

  • Rare Earth elements are used in building consumer electronics, in healthcare, transportation and are especially important for governments because of their use in manufacturing defence equipment.

  • At present, China refines approximately 80%-90% of the world’s Rare Earths, thereby having substantial control over their supply.

  • China accounts for 80% of all known deposits of Rare Earth minerals and are mined extensively and exported.

  • This hegemony of China has allowed it to use this as a bargaining chip in strategic issues. Since 2010, China has curbed shipments of Rare Earths to Japan, the US, and Europe.

 Rare Earth Minerals

  • Rare Earth Elements or Rare Earth Metals are a set of 17 chemical elements in the periodic table, the 15 lanthanides, plus scandium and yttrium, which tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides, and have similar chemical properties.

  • The 17 Rare Earths are cerium (Ce), dysprosium (Dy), erbium (Er), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), holmium (Ho), lanthanum (La), lutetium (Lu), neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), scandium (Sc), terbium (Tb), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), and yttrium (Y).

Applications

  • These elements are important in technologies of consumer electronics, computers and networks, communications, clean energy, advanced transportation, healthcare, environmental mitigation, and national defence.

  • Scandium is used in televisions and fluorescent lamps, and yttrium is used in drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.

  • Rare Earth elements are used in space shuttle components, jet engine turbines, and drones. Cerium, the most abundant Rare Earth element, is essential to NASA’s Space Shuttle Programme.