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 the using 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. 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. Due to this complexity, 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 solvent extractions :

  • • 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

With robust know-how and a unique industrial experience 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 earths are used in a wide range of applications: they are found, for example, in catalysts for oil refining or automobile pollution control, in glass or ceramics for civil and military electronics.
The main application is the production of permanent magnets. This application requires the use of two to four pure rare earths, including Neodymium, Praseodymium, Dysprosium and Terbium.
Today, electric motors with rare-earth permanent magnets are the most efficient motors on the market and are used in most new-generation offshore and onshore wind turbines, as well as in most electric vehicle traction motors.
Rare earths are therefore an essential link in the energy transition, particularly in the switch from cars to electric vehicles, and in the decarbonization of the energy mix based on a major increase in wind power generation capacity.

Where do the rare earths come from ?

Today, China accounts for 65% of the world's rare earth mines, but over 90% of the world's rare earth refining capacity (for Neodymium and Praseodymium, 80% of global volumes are refined in China, while for Dysprosium and Terbium, 100% of global volumes are refined in China to date), hence our extreme dependence on China for these raw materials, which have been on every critical resources list for many years.

Because of the strategic nature of rare earths, the market is opening up for new entrants ("junior mining") and Carester has a key positioning as the essential expert advisor to propose an optimized rare earth mining project.

Carester is deeply convinced that Europe has to play in creating a complete rare earths value chain.

Examples of applications

Electric cars

The most efficient electric or hybrid vehicle motors contain rare-earth-based permanent magnets (NdFeB). Vehicles also have got other equipment containing rare earths (steering columns, speakers, pumps, window motors, etc.). Globally, an electric or hybrid car contains between 1.5 and 2kg of rare earths.

The European Union approved the end of sales of new thermal cars in 2035. Sales of electric cars are set to rise sharply. Every year, about 15 million cars are sold in Europe. The challenge is to be able to supply electric car manufacturers with rare-earth-based permanent magnets, and to recycle them from end-of-life vehicules.

Wind turbines

The latest, most efficient generator technologies to produce wind power are based on rare-earth permanent magnets.
In a context of energy transition, the European Union is set to install 200 GW of new capacity between 2024 and 2030 (source: WindEurope).

This will create strong demand for permanent magnets, and therefore for rare earths, over the coming years.
The challenge is thus, supplying these rare earths and recycle the permanent magnets once the wind turbines have been dismantled.

Electrical mobility

Electric scooters and electric bicycles are equipped with permanent magnet-based electric motors. In Europe, these applications will account for 10% of demand for permanent magnets.

Other applications

The medical sector, notably MRIs, but also motors used in industry contain permanent magnets.