Rare Earths – Uses
Cerium, lanthanum and neodymium are used in the manufacture of Ni-MH batteries. Battery characteristics dictate how much energy can be stored and how quickly the energy can be released. The difference between these preferences can be critical for applications such as hybrid electric vehicles, which above all need power, and battery powered electric vehicles, which above all need energy to travel long distances without an internal combustion engine. Ni-MH batteries are chosen for many hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius, while Tesla uses lithium-ion batteries. Rechargeable batteries account for about 60% of the battery market and portable rechargeable batteries account for slightly more than one-third of this market.
Rechargeable batteries are used in:
- Cellular phones
- Digital cameras
- MP3 players
- Hybrid and electric vehicles
- Others (energy storage, medical applications, UPS, back-up systems, etc.).
The use of rare earths in catalysts accounted for 19% of global demand in 2014. The main uses are:
Fluid Cracking Catalysts (FCCs) are used in the oil refining process to convert heavy oils (gas oils and residual oils) into more valuable gasoline, distillates and lighter products. Rare earth elements are used in FCCs to control the product selectivity of the catalyst and to produce higher yields of the more valuable products, such as gasoline. Lanthanum is the predominant rare earth used in FCCs, along with lesser amounts of cerium and neodymium. Cerium is an important component of the FCC additives that reduce stationary source nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulphur oxide (SOx) pollutants.
Automotive catalytic converters use cerium to facilitate the oxidation of carbon monoxide (CO) and significantly reduce vehicle CO emissions. While the amount of cerium required per vehicle is small, catalytic converters are used in most passenger vehicles and accounted for approximately 9% of global rare earth demand by volume in 2015.
The rare earths used in phosphors are necessary for the production of television sets and energy-efficient lamps. This is a small sector by volume, at about 7 percent, but a large sector by value, due to the relatively high prices of europium and terbium.
Cerium is used in ultra-violet light filtering and in the manufacture of glass polishing powders that take advantage of cerium’s unique chemical and mechanical properties.
Fuel cells are a promising clean energy technology for vehicle propulsion and for distributed power generation. Rare earths are used in several different fuel cell chemistries; in particular, there is presently no substitute for their use in solid oxide fuel cell separator stacks.
Rare earths form a part of the many super alloys that are used to make components for gas turbines, electric generators and many other items. This sector accounts for about 18% of global rare earth demand. Rare earth metal alloys are also used in the manufacture of nickel metal hydride rechargeable batteries; the demand for these batteries is growing and this growth will increase the demand for lanthanum and other rare earths.
Hybrid and electric cars and trucks
- It is estimated that between 6 and 10 million hybrid vehicles will be manufactured in 2020;
- Each hybrid vehicle uses an average of 2kg of neodymium magnets in sensor and motor applications, such as electric power steering, electric brakes, e-Turbo, speakers, etc.;
- It is estimated that the total amount of neodymium used in magnets in 2015 was 7,000t and that this demand will rise to 17,000t in 2020.
- Between 200kg (hybrid) and 500-600kg (direct drive) neodymium magnets are used for each MW of output;
- The replacement of a 500 MW coal-fired power plant with wind turbines would require about 275t of neodymium magnets;
- The global demand for neodymium for use in wind turbines in 2015 was approximately 8,500t.
- This industry is in a phase of rapid growth;
- The use of neodymium magnets improves efficiency by 20%;
- The demand for neodymium magnets in this industry in 2014 was over 4,000t.
- More than 1.8 billion cell phones contain speakers and vibrator motors;
- More than 280 million speakers are used in motor vehicles each year;
- Speakers, ear buds and headphones use about 4,500t of neodymium per year.