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Solutions Sought For Obtaining Rare Earths

Cleantech Chemistry readers should check out my colleague Mitch Jacoby’s fascinating look at the market for rare earth metals and oxides. The rare earths, he points out, are not necessarily rare, but they are difficult to economically mine and process.

And yet they are extraordinarily important in the making of technologies in the computer, electronics, transportation, energy, and defense industries. Many cleantech advances like windmills, hybrid cars, and compact fluorescent lights depend on the rare earths.

Though not technically “rare,” the rare earths are getting harder to source in countries outside of China, as China has the lion’s share of deposits and has a lock the on economic production of pure materials. In addition, China has been lowering export quotas to keep more of the rare earths at home.

Recently, W.R. Grace said it would add a rare earth surcharge to fluid catalytic cracking catalysts and additives for the petroleum refining industry, which shows that rare earths are also used in some older industries.

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