Most people are unaware of how dependent they are on rare earth elements. The majority of the population relies on devices manufactured with rare earth elements every single day. The following devices have become an integrated part of society's day-to-day lifestyle:
Rare earth elements have been termed essential "vitamins in chemistry” and are used to make technological devices perform at the height of their capabilities. The following qualities have enabled rare earth elements to be used for a wide variety of purposes:
Rare earth elements are used in the most casual products from sunglasses to the most sophisticated designs such as laser beams.
In the past twenty years, the world has experimented with and developed new uses for rare earths to coincide with the rapid developments in technology that have occurred in the past two decades.
The automotive industry is currently initiating a higher demand for rare earth elements. Manufacturers of automobiles are making a dramatic change in the cars they develop in order to remain in line with the world's demand for vehicles that require less gas.
As a means of responding to the pressing issues of climate change and increased gas prices, more hybrid cars are being manufactured and the electric battery requires rare earth elements.
Rare earth elements also play a major role in manufacturing tools for the military and national defense. The United States had a major advantage in the Gulf War due to objects such as night-vision goggles that were developed with rare earth elements. Other uses of rare earth elements in national defense include:
Neodymium – used in laser range-finders, communication and guidance systems
Samarium – used in producing "white noise” for stealth technology and precision guided weapons
Europium – used for phosphors and fluorescents in monitors
Erbium – used in the amplifiers in fiber-optics
While there are substitutes for rare earth elements, they cannot provide the same quality nor will the products perform at the highest caliber.
Advancements in technology mean that more and more uses for rare earth elements will be developed over the next few decades. It is predicted that the world's demand for rare earth elements will increase significantly in this time.
At the moment, 97% of the world's supply of rare earth elements comes from China. However, China is beginning to impose restrictions on exportations as well as implementing a resource tax. With increasing demand and limited supply, it is predicted that the price of rare earth elements and the products they are used to develop will increase in price periodically.
However, prices should come back down once other countries have sourced out new locations to mine for rare earth elements.