> Uses of Rare Earth Elements
Rare earth metals and alloys that contain them are used in many everyday devices such as computer memory, DVDs, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, magnets, fluorescent lighting, and much more.
During the past twenty years, there has been an explosion in demand for many items that require rare earth metals. Twenty years ago, there were very few cell phones in use, but the number has risen to over 7 billion in use today. The use of rare earth elements in computers has grown almost as fast as cell phones.
Many rechargeable batteries are made with rare earth compounds. Demand for batteries is being driven by demand for portable electronic devices such as cell phones, readers, portable computers, and cameras.
Chemical Catalysts: 55%
Metallurgy & Alloys: 15%
Ceramics and Glass Making: 10%
Glass Polishing: 10%
Several pounds of rare earth compounds are in batteries that power every electric vehicle and hybrid-electric vehicle. As concerns for energy independence, climate change, and other issues drive the sale of electric and hybrid vehicles, the demand for batteries made with rare earth compounds will climb even faster.
Rare earths are used as catalysts, phosphors, and polishing compounds. These are used for air pollution control, illuminated screens on electronic devices, and optical-quality glass polishing. All of these products are expected to experience rising demand.
Other substances can be substituted for rare earth elements in their most important uses. However, these substitutes are usually less effective and costly.
From the 1950s until the early 2000s, cerium oxide was a trendy lapidary polish. It was inexpensive and very effective. The recent price increases have almost eliminated cerium oxide usage in rock tumbling and the lapidary arts. Other types of polish, such as aluminum and titanium oxide, are now used in its place.