Mineral resources: rare earths

The rare earth group consists of 17 metallic elements that are essential for several high-tech industries. These metals have become an economic and even geopolitical commodity.
10 June 2021
Cover of the thematic file

Cover of the thematic file.

© BRGM 

Why rare earths are in demand

Named in the 19th century after the discovery of new elements that were thought to be uncommon, rare earths came into common use in industry in the 1970s. They owe this to their very specific physical properties.

A rapidly expanding market

Rare earths are now included in many manufactured objects and have become indispensable to several high-tech industries. These metals have become an important economic and geopolitical commodity.

The geological origin of rare earths

Whether these resources come from deep or surface deposits, are easily accessible or difficult to extract, the search for the metals we use every day is first and foremost a matter of geology.

Developing recycling to reduce conflicts

At present, the group of metals known as rare earths is hardly recycled at all, unlike more common elements such as iron or copper. The reason for this is that the quantities recovered are often very small and contain impurities, and the processes  are not yet as profitable as very cheap extractions, particularly in countries with low environmental standards. Improving the recycling processes for rare earths is therefore one of the solutions being studied by the French Geological Survey, BRGM.

Geoscience challenges