Difference Between Light Rare Earth Element (LREE) & Heavy Rare Earth Element (HREE)
LREE HREE Rare earth elements possess special chemical and physical properties that they help make smartphones, hybrid cars and other high-tech devices possible. REEs consist of the 15 elements in the Lanthanide series and two other elements that don’t belong to that group. Light rare earths, or LREEs, have smaller atomic weights than heavy rare earths, also called HREEs.
Rare but Not Too Rare
China produces over 95 percent of the planet’s REE output. Because the United States only produces a small amount of rare earth minerals from recycling, it relies on imports for most of its supply. The planet has a moderate supply of REEs so they aren’t really that rare at all. However, rare earth elements aren’t concentrated enough to make it profitable to extract them easily.
Atomic Weights and Rare Earths
Glance at a periodic table and you’ll see the light rare earths beginning at atomic number 57 and ending with 62. These elements include lanthanum, cerium and praseodymium. Elements with atomic numbers 63 to 71 make up the heavy rare earths. Elements in that group include europium and gadolinium. Yttrium is a heavy rare earth even though its atomic number is 39. Scientists place it in the heavy group because its properties resemble those you find in the heavy rare earth elements.
Heavy vs. Light
Light REEs often exist in deposits such as those at Bokan Mountain in Alaska. This mountain also has a unique supply of HREE-enriched deposits. It is also one of the few sources where you can find heavy rare earth elements in a large enough concentration that you can produce efficiently. Monazite, bastnasite and loparite are some of the main sources where you can extract REE. Rare earths are usually soft and malleable with colors that range from iron gray to sliver. Cerium, a light rare earth, is the most abundant REE and it is the most reactive. Its atomic number is 58 and the petroleum industry uses Cerium as a catalyst.
Other Rare Earth Uses
While REEs may not make up a large part of a device, it may not function unless it contains a rare earth element. HREEs are essential elements that make up magnets you find in tablets. In addition to helping manufacturers build consumer devices, such as the iPhone, heavy rare earths are important in the renewable energy industry. Magnets that drive wind turbines, for example, contain terbium and neodymium. You’ll also find lanthanum in catalytic converters and platinum group metals in fuel cells.
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