Economic Importance of Rare Earth Metals to Drive Global Rare Earth Metals Market

Rare earth metals comprise a series of elements extracted from the Earth’s crust. These constitute fifteen lanthanides (thulium, terbium, gadolinium, lutetium, holmium, promethium, erbium, cerium, ytterbium, praseodymium, dysprosium, lanthanum, europium, samarium, and neodymium), scandium, and yttrium. These elements exhibit distinct luminescent, magnetic, and electrochemical properties desirable for several modern technologies: consumer electronics, communications, and advanced transportation, to name a few.

American Researchers Discover Technique for Extraction of Rare Earth Metals from Coal Byproducts

In North America, economic output worth more than US$329 bn is dependent on rare earth elements, as per the American Chemistry Council. Even though the U.S. is the world’s second largest producer of rare earth metals at just over 6% of the global total, the U.S. economy is heavily dependent on imports of the same for ultra-modern operations and services. Nevertheless, the U.S. may soon be able to diminish imports considerably through domestic production. 

At Penn State and the U.S. Department of Energy, a team of researchers have discovered a technique to extract these metals from coal byproducts, which is cost-effective as well as environmentally sustainable. Rare earth metals are found in coal seams and in proximity to other mineral veins. However, due to the high cost of their extraction and low demand for them until recently, in spite of their abundance in the U.S., their extraction was not feasible.

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In coal production in the Northern Appalachian region of the U.S., byproducts of coal were treated to an ion exchange chemical process in order to extract rare earth metals in the safest manner. As ion exchange requires less energy and is not harsh on the environment as well, it may be sustainable for the production of both necessary and luxury items.

China Dominates Rare Earth Metals Market for Production and Consumption

The rare earth metals market will rise at an impressive 13% CAGR from 2012 to 2018, says Transparency Market Research. Categorized into heavy and light metal types, rare earth metals are utilized in the manufacture of a large number of everyday devices. This holds promise for the market’s progression. Despite this, concentration of reserves in select regions of the world lead to dominance of those regional rare earth metals markets.

China accounts for more than 85% of the world’s rare earth metal production, followed by the U.S., Russia, India, Australia, and others. Being the largest consumer of these metals as well, China accounts for a massive share of more than 95% in the global market for rare earth metals. The excessive dominance of China poses a challenge for producers from other countries.

Cerium oxide has the most widespread applications of all rare earth metals. In 2013, it held the largest market share of 40% in the global market. This was followed by lanthanum oxide, which accounted for a share of 23.8% in the global market. The automotive and green technology industries utilize lanthanum oxide extensively, along with moderate utilization of the same in the construction and electronics industries.


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