Rare Earths

Rare Earths

There are 17 elements in the rare earth family: scandium, yttrium and the 15 lanthanides. In this flourishing age of digital and green technology, the demand for rare-earth elements, and those used for magnets in particular, is constantly growing.

It is important not to be fooled by the term "rare earth". Actually, deposits can be found on all continents and more rare-earth elements are found in the earth’s crust than gold, silver or even lead. The many properties of these elements (magnetic, electronic, optical and even catalytic) have made them an essential resource for many industrial sectors, and particularly for the manufacture of technological products that support our daily lives, such as smartphones, electric cars, connected objects, etc.

However, it is the process of isolating them from their ores and purifying them to a high degree of purity, which is vital for enabling the use of rare- earth elements in modern applications, that gives rare-earth elements their "precious" nature. Essentially, rare-earth elements are so- called because it is very difficult to separate them from each other. In the same "meticulous and precise way that we extract a flower’s precious essential oil to gain the most concentrated and powerful benefit, we must implement extremely precise and elaborate procedures to purify rare-earth elements. The industrial technique for separating rare- earth elements from each other is liquid-liquid extraction. This involves distillation in two liquid phases - one aqueous mixture and one non- miscible organic mixture - between which the rare-earth elements divide.

In the same "meticulous and precise way that we extract a flower’s precious essential oil to gain the most concentrated and powerful benefit, we must implement extremely precise and elaborate procedures to purify rare-earth elements.

The industrial technique for separating rare- earth elements from each other is liquid-liquid extraction. This involves distillation in two liquid phases - one aqueous mixture and one non- miscible organic mixture - between which the rare-earth elements divide.

There are two types of liquid-liquid extraction:

  • A chloride method, initially developed in the USA and in France and today mainly used in China and Malaysia
  • A nitrite method, mainly developed and currently practised in France and Estonia (former Soviet Union)

With robust know-how and industrial experience like no other in the world, the Carester experts are the only players in the sector able to master both methods. This allows them to guide their clients to the most suitable process for their project.

The company’s mission is to preserve these unparalleled and irreplaceable skills, perpetuating them and constantly improving them to better respect our planet.

Rare-earth elements and their industrial applications

Rare-earth elements are used in many industrial applications. For example, they are found in petrol-refining and emission-reducing catalysers, in glass and ceramics and in civil and military electronics. However, it is primarily in the manufacture of permanent magnets that rare- earth elements play a major role in shaping our future.
More powerful than their big brother, the ferrite magnet, rare earth magnets are establishing themselves in modern applications. In a world where there is an ever greater need for efficiency and, rare earth magnets are far more powerful, making their ferrite-based forefathers obsolete.
Today, these magnets are present in a number of modern applications such as smartphones and tablets as well as wind turbines and electric cars, which will constitute the primary application for rare-earth elements by 2040.

The Chinese monopoly

Today, China extracts approximately 80% and refines 90% of rare-earth elements worldwide. Despite this, China owns only one third of the world’s reserves.

The biggest producer outside of China is the Australian company Lynas, which owns a mine in Australia and a separation factory in Malaysia. In 2018, Lynas was responsible for approximately 20% of the world’s production of separated rare-earth elements.

Due to the strategic nature of the current climate, the market is opening up to newcomers and Carester is in prime position as an indispensable consultant able to offer tailored rare earth mining projects.

Carester firmly believes in the role that Europe must play in bringing balance.

Examples of applications

Electric cars

41 million vehicles by 2040.
Each vehicle contains an average of 1.7 kg of Nd (Pr)

Offshore wind turbines

Permanent magnets are used in the design of high-speed gearboxes as well as direct-drive turbines without gearboxes. Each magnet contains 150 kg of Nd (Pr) per MW