While most of us spend our lives enthralled with our smartphone screens, there is barely any popular discourse about the earth’s resources that are responsible for these screens. A group of 17 elements mined directly from the planet called rare earth are responsible for our technology-powered society. Almost all electronics you use are manufactured using these elements, and demand for them is at an all-time high.
The ubiquity of these rare earth elements can be driven home by the fact that they are essential for relaying fiber-optic signals across the seafloor. This means these elements play a role in keeping our global internet infrastructure running. This makes them indispensable to the very functioning of modern society.
Apart from that, these elements are also fundamental to green energy, which the world is slowly transitioning to. Rare earth elements are everywhere, and judging by their trajectory, they will soon find themselves on par with petroleum resources when comparing their necessity to the world.
These elements have certain properties that make them essential for modern technology. This article will explore how their chemical properties help them perform several functions.
4 Chemical and Physical Properties That Make Rare Earth Elements Special
Rare earth elements have unique chemical and physical properties that make them valuable for many modern technologies, including electronics, energy, and defense.
Here are four properties that make these elements indispensable for contemporary society:
1. High Melting Points and Thermal Stability
Rare earth elements have exceptionally high melting and boiling points. Therefore, they are used in industries dealing with high temperatures. This means these elements are used in the lining of furnaces, nuclear reactors, and even in the glass and ceramic industries.
The rare earth elements are luminescent, i.e., they give off light. This property makes them extremely useful in manufacturing electronic products that need bright and striking displays. These elements are used in making smartphone screens, LCDs, and energy-efficient lighting. The military also uses them to make night-vision goggles.
3. Magnetic Properties
The elements’ magnetic properties are so effective that most of the world’s rare earth elements are used in making high-performance permanent magnets. Since rare earth elements begin to lose their magnetic properties at high temperatures, the elements are mixed with an alloy to make magnets. 95% of the world’s permanent magnets are made with a rare earth alloy.
When mixed with alloys, rare earths form metals that are incredibly hard to destroy or penetrate. Due to this property, these elements are used to make tanks and armor for military teams.
Rare earth elements might not be part of popular discourse, but they are why we can enjoy living in a society powered by technology. With their electric properties, these elements are also vital for batteries in sustainable and green energy sources. Ethical and sustainable acquisition of these elements is key to a better future for society.