Rare Earth Elements (REEs) are a group of specialty metals with unique physical, chemical and light-emitting properties that are seeing dramatic increases in demand, owing to their technological applications. The unique properties of REEs make them critical materials to many emerging technologies which are becoming increasingly commonplace in today’s society. In many respects, REEs applications are strongly associated with energy; its efficient use, and its efficient generation. In a world with an ever-increasing demand for clean and efficient technologies, REEs are set to play a pivotal role.
Supply of REEs is both politically and technically complex. Global consumption of REEs has been increasing significantly while supply of REEs has tightened dramatically. For the last 15 years, China has dominated global supply, but owing to the importance of REE availability to internal industries, China is prioritizing its domestic markets through steadily increasing export taxes on REEs in tandem with reducing export quotas. As a result, REEs are in short supply, and with demand forecast to progressively increase, the world drastically needs new suppliers of REEs.
The REE group is considered to include the 15 lanthanide elements: lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, promethium (does not occur naturally), neodymium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium. The elements yttrium and scandium are also included as they have similar chemical properties, making 17 REEs in total. The resource and market details refer to REEs in the oxide form and the group is collectively discussed as Rare Earth Oxides (REO).
As the future supply and demand forecasts for REEs begin to emerge, it is clear that some REEs with high industry dependence will remain under supply pressure for many years to come. These are now referred to as ‘Critical’ rare earths (CRE’s) by the US Department of Energy owing to their importance to clean energy technologies and supply risk. The CREs include neodymium, europium, terbium, dysprosium, and yttrium.