Why we need rare-earth metals for green technology

September 1, 2009

Why we need rare-earth metals for green technologyNeodymium, lanthanum, and dysprosium are all rare-earth metals necessary for a variety of green technologies like hybrid and electric vehicles, biofuels, and batteries.  These elements have other uses in nuclear reactors, compact disks and modern medicine.

These metals can be found in Africa, China and North America.  According to EcoGeek, our demand for these rare-earth metals is expected to exceed the supply over the next 10 years.  So how exactly are these three metals used and why are they so important?

Neodymium makes very strong cheap light magnets. These magnets are used in the brushless engines of hybrids and electric vehicles as seen in the above picture.  Neodymium magnets are a key component in the “Inductrack Magnetic Levitation System” being developed by physicist Richard Post at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Calif. for use with maglev trains.  Maglev Trains are extremely fast.

The metal also is used to color glass and is used in rear view mirrors to cut down on glare.   Without Neodymium, hybrids and electric vehicles wouldn’t be possible.  Who knows, if Post’s research continues and proves promising, we may see maglev trains crisscrossing the country as an alternative to crowded flights.

Energizer nickel-metal hydride rechargables An important component in nickel-metal hydride batterieslanthanum is also used for carbon-arc electrodes used in the motion picture industry.  Not only are nickel-metal hydride batteries used in some hybrid and electric vehicles, they are the rechargeable batteries that are used in many small electronics and toys.  This rare-earth metal is also used in the production of biofuels and medicine.  Lanthanum carbonate, a nano technology drug, is used to treat end-stage renal failure by removing excess phosphate.

Nanofibers of dysprosium oxide flouride Dysprosium has high magnetic properties like neodymium.  Because of its high magnetic properties, it is used in the manufacture of information storage mediums like compact disks.  It can be used to replace a portion of neodymium in magnets and motors, but this metal is so scarce that we would quickly run out of it.

This rare-earth metal is used in nuclear reactor control rods.  Nanofibers of dysprosium are used to reinforce other materials and as a catalyst.    In cars, dysprosium is used in liquid fuel injectors.

These three rare-earth metals are used in advanced technologies that affect the types of cars that will be available, the types of energy sources we will have and even necessary medicines.  Without them, the world of low and zero emissions vehicles would not be possible.

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