Mineral resources: rare earths
Cover of the thematic file.
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.