Alternative solutions to rare earths

Alternative solutions to rare earths

Strategic and economic challenge for many countries that race for rare earths. With expensive and environmentally dangerous methods, it is essential to find alternative solutions to overcome these problems.

But what are rare earths?

Rare earths are 17 rare metals, abundant in the earth’s crust. As for example, lanthanum, yttrium, cerium, europium, neodymium, etc. It is chemical elements (from atomic number 57 to 71), metallic in appearance, reactive at high temperatures.

hese rare metals are coveted. For the manufacture of many everyday objects. Indeed, they are found in smartphones, mobile phones, flat screens, IPods, computer hard drives, low consumption lamps, digital cameras, navigation systems, electric or hybrid motors, panels solar, automotive batteries, diesel additives, magnets in hybrid cars, catalytic converters, jet engines, wind turbines, medical imaging, X-ray displays, cathode ray tubes, in night vision devices, rangefinders, missiles or in the nuclear industry. All sectors have a strong demand in the field of rare earths. But these metals have a cost and very negative effects on the environment. For that it is important to have alternative solutions. 

Some ideas of alternatives to rare metals 

  • Solution 1: Recycling

To cope with the decline of rare earths and Chinese leadership, recycling is the first solution for rare earths. Indeed, we will recover rare metals in electronic devices that we use every day. and recycle them.

*The French company Rhodia has started to recycle low consumption lamps. For this, he opened two factories in Saint-Fons (69) and La Rochelle (17). In these factories, the white powder of the low consumption lamps is recovered at Saint-Fons and it is retreated to La Rochelle. In the end, the 6 rare earths are extracted and resold. In addition, recycling will continue for the magnets of electric cars, hard drives and rechargeable batteries, etc.

Certainly, recycling is a short-term solution to a growing demand. But, it still makes it possible to secure, preserve the resources of rare metals.

 

  • Solution 2: Rare earth substitution

Others rely more on the substitution of rare earths. Indeed, it is necessary to put in place products that would have little or no need for rare earths.

  • For example, Toyota is looking to develop its energy-saving hybrid cars using a magnetless induction motor. He could implement his strategy in the next two years.
  • *General Electrics announces the creation of a wind turbine that needs very little rare earth.
  • Toyota et General Motors prefer to bet on the induction motor that do not use or few rare earth magnets.
  • Others choose the solution of synchronous motors (permanent magnet rotors). This solution is practiced by Siemens Leroy Somer.
  •  Samsung uses optoelectronic materials to replace rare earths in some applications. Photonic materials improve luminescence and have the advantage of avoiding rare earths. Samsung is researching and opening an institute, with 3,000 researchers, in Korea’s Kynggi province.
  • Hitachi company had succeeded in creating a rare earth-free electric motor that blows air into buildings and factories. They use a patented technology, an amorphous metal-based iron core, which provides a less expensive solution for the same performance.        
     
  • Solution 3: diversification of sources of supply

 This solution consists of opening or re-opening dormant mines (closed) where rare metals are found, which countries have left aside in the face of competition from the Chinese.

 

  • Solution 4: Invest in research to find more environmentally friendly and less hazardous REE extraction methods.

Rare earths are a considerable asset. But, if owning rare earths harm the environment and the health of workers or the population. I personally find this very dangerous. It is said that the last are the first. And the first ones are the last ones. China had the virtual monopoly of rare earths. They got rich. But at what cost ? Neglecting their environments, the health of their workers or the population. They have a lot of work to try to repair the damage done. 

 

 

 

It is fundamental to find more ecological solutions, less dangerous for the environment and the health of the populations. It’s nice to have a nice cell phone, a flat screen TV or whatever. But at what cost ? The countries that will succeed in putting in place effective alternatives, which do not harm the environment or the population, with methods of extractions much less polluting. It is this country that will have a real strategic advantage over others and will be the real winner of the rare earth race.

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