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Published on : Feb 08, 2016

In North America, rare earth metals are of high economic importance. As per the American Chemistry Council, economic output worth more than US$329 billion is dependent on the availability of these metals. Standing as the second-largest producer of rare earth metals at just over 6%, the U.S. economy is significantly dependent on imports for the same. This is to carry out ultra-modern operations and services for modern technologies. These include consumer electronics, advanced transportation, communications to name a few.

In a recent research finding at the Penn State and the U.S. Department of Energy, a new technique has been devised to extract rare earth metals from coal byproducts. The technique holds to be promising for both environment and economic reasons. Coal seams and mineral veins in the proximity have reserves of rare earth metals. However, due to the high cost of extraction of the commodity and its low demand, its extraction was not of much value.

Nevertheless, in the new technique, in coal production in the Northern Appalachian region of the U.S., coal byproducts were treated to an ion exchange chemical process to obtain rare earth metals in safest manner. Since ion exchange consumes less energy and does not have severe consequences on the environment, the technique seems sustainable in the long-run. Thus, it can be used for the production of necessary and luxury items for everyday functioning.

Rare earth metals are a series of chemical elements that are extracted from the crust of the Earth. These are fifteen lanthanides praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, dysprosium, gadolinium, thulium, ytterbium, lanthanum, cerium, samarium, europium, holmium, terbium, erbium, and lutetium) that exhibit similar chemical properties plus scandium and yttrium. Due to their distinct magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties rare earth metals are suitable for a large number of modern technologies. 

The global market for rare earth metals will witness proliferation in the coming years. Categorized as light weight and heavy weight metals, rare earth metals are used for manufacturing everyday functioning devices. Despite, concentration of reserves in a few regions of the world is detrimental to the market’s growth. China has more than 85% of rare earth metal reserves in the world, thereby its excessive dominance in the market.