What Are Rare Earth Elements (REE)?
Seventeen elements form the group known as the Rare Earth Elements (REEs): the 15 lanthanides, yttrium, and usually scandium.
Rare earth elements are actually relatively abundant in the earth’s crust, but are not often concentrated in mineable deposits, and are almost always found in conjunction with significant radioactivity. Therefore, these elements are “rare” mostly because of the difficulty associated with economically extracting them.
Due to lax environmental laws China has built a monopoly in the rare earth market controlling over 90% of the world’s rare earth minerals. Due to severe environmental issues China has begun to mitigate the damage from production of rare earths by shutting down small operations and raising standards as well as restricting exports meaning potential supply problems of rare earth’s. This has driven Western companies, like Lynas Corporation, to produce on their deposits.
China’s restriction on rare earth exports has had a dramatic effect on the price of rare earths which are becoming increasingly valuable as they are used in electronic equipment like computers, mobile phones and “green” technology including wind turbines and hybrid cars. Other uses include medical devices, and military applications such as missiles, jet engines, and satellites.