The Battle for Earth’s Rare Metals
Over 10,000 years ago, our ancestors found copper, the first metal known to man. The discovery allowed humans to step out of the Stone Age and into the Age of Metals
We’ve come a long way since our ancestors discovered copper and fashioned the first rudimentary metal objects. In recent decades, we have put the rarest metallic chemical elements to use in the most exotic applications, from smartphones to fighter jets. These abundant but highly dispersed, difficult-to-extract metals – the rare-earth elements – have become one of Asia-pacific’s most important strategic resources. WHAT ARE RARE EARTH METALS?
The Periodic Table of Elements contains chemical information on over 118 different elements and their various properties that can be found on Earth today. Out of these 118 elements, 17 of them are known as rare- earth metals (REMS) or rare- earth elements (REES). They were first given the name “rare earths” because it was originally thought that there was a short supply of these elements on Earth. These elements are typically dispersed and rarely found in concentrated amounts, but further studies have shown that there is in fact an abundance of these elements in many workable deposits around the world. These metals were only deemed rare, because they were often found in very small concentrations at a time, meaning ore deposits are not commonly economically exploitable. Ideally, for a rare earth metal ore to be economically viable, it should contain more than 5 percent rare earths. If they are mined along with another product, such as iron, this allows economic recovery when concentrations are as low as 0.5 percent by weight.