Cleaner Rare Earths

Chemistry professor David Hatchett
Jan. 14, 2016

There are 118 elements on the periodic table. The familiar ones in- clude hydrogen (1), oxygen (8), as well as the noble gases helium (2) and neon (10). But there is a subset of the periodic table that in- cludes less familiar elements. Count among them atomic numbers 57 through 71 — a group of metallic chemicals collectively referred to as “lanthanides,” or rare earth metals.

Found in the Earth’s crust, these rare earth metals are valued for their unique magnetic, optical, and catalyst properties. Many of the items we take for granted in modern life — consumer electronics, com- puters, clean energy, health care technology — depend on lanthanides to perform with the ef ciency, speed, and durability to which we’ve grown accustomed. 

China currently controls approximately 97 percent of the world supply of rare earth metals and oxides, says David Hatchett, a chemistry professor at UNLV. For the rest of the world this, obviously, is a source of some consternation.

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