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Rare earth elements: Not so rare, but vitally important

The rare-earth elements (REEs) or rare-earth metals (REMs) are a set of heavy metals known as lanthanides. Some well-known examples of rare earth elements are cerium, neodymium, and samarium but include many others. The abundance of these elements in the earth’s crust is plentiful, however, they get their namesake from the fact that they are typically dispersed and not concentrated in veins, making it rare to find economically viable mining deposits. China is currently the world’s most significant producer of these elements.

The demand for rare earth elements is driven primarily by the demand for strong rare-earth magnets. These magnets are commonly found in wind turbine generators, MRI scanners, AC servo motors, and traction motors (as found in hybrid and electric vehicles). The shift towards electric vehicles and renewable energy has subsequently brought about an increase in rare-earth magnet demand. This shift has forced countries to classify rare-earth elements as strategically important and focus on securing supply chains and innovating new methods for producing these valuable materials.

Here at Creative Engineers, Inc., we are working in conjunction with our clients to develop and scale new and improved methods of producing rare-earth elements. One new and improved method is projected to help with supply chain instability as well as decrease the environmental impact of the rare-earth production process. Current processes release CF4 (a.k.a. carbon tetrafluoride or PFC-14), a powerful greenhouse gas with a global warming potential (GWP) approximately 6,500-times higher than carbon dioxide, during production. The new method of production utilizing sodium metal does not release any greenhouse gasses and is estimated to utilize less overall energy to produce the same (or better) quality of rare-earth elements.

If you have any engineering problems or are looking for assistance in process scale-up or process development, Creative Engineers, Inc. can help. We have extensive experience with many different chemicals and processes, both hazardous and non-hazardous. Contact us today to see how we can help you.

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