Due to the growing commercial relevance of “Rare Earths” (RE) in recent years, MCC has been devoting intense effort to their procurement and processing for some time now.
The 17 rare earths are a set of elements in the periodic table (“earth” is an old term for “oxide”). The set comprises the following elements, ordered by atomic number: Scandium (Sc, 21), Yttrium (Y, 39), the lanthanoids Lanthan (La, 57), Cerium (Ce, 58), Praseodymium (Pr,59), Neodymium (Nd, 60), Promethium (Pm, 61), Samarium (Sm, 62), Europium (Eu, 63), Gadolinium (Gd, 64), Terbium (Tb, 65), Dysprosium (Dy, 66), Holmium (Ho,67), Erbium (Er, 68), Thulium (Tm, 69), Ytterbium (Yb, 70) and Lutetium (Lu, 71).
Today it is hard to imagine everyday life without the RE metals and they have become indispensable for the manufacture of modern technologies. They can be used for a broad spectrum of applications:
- In small amounts as a component in catalytic converters for cars, special steels, nickel-metal hydride batteries and high-performance permanent magnets of the kind used in generators for producing wind and hydro power.
- Compounds of RE metals are used for the luminescent materials in LCD and plasma screens, LEDs and special types of glass with a high refractive index.
- In industry, the RE metals and their salts are for instance used in catalysts for the petrochemical industry, as alloy additives, in polishing agents, ceramic capacitors, colour pigments and glass dyes.
The rare earth metals are found in approximately 100 known minerals such as monazite, bastnäsite and Xenotime and can never be mined alone. As a result, the refining process is extremely complex. The concentration of RE elements in the ore is site-specific and does not correspond to the actual technical requirements of the respective RE metals. In order to cover growing demand and offset Chinese export restrictions, new RE deposits are currently being investigated and developed all over the world. Besides sources in China, MCC is also able to draw on reliable and established sources in India.