How Are Rare Earths Used?

There are 17 elements found on the earth that are classified as rare earth elements (REE). While the word "rare” may make you think that these elements are scarce, they are in fact found all over our planet but typically in small amounts. The term "rare earth” comes from their initial discovery in which only tiny portions of these minerals could be isolated from larger quantities of still more common elements.

Today, "rare earth” is used to describe any of the 15 metallic chemical elements with atomic numbers from 57 to 71 (called "lanthanides”) and the chemically similar elements scandium and yttrium.

The global demand for rare earths has increased as more uses for these elements are found. Today there are hundreds of uses for REE, ranging from high tech (lasers, camera lenses, computer memory modules, x-ray machines), energy (batteries, lamps, superconductors) and industrial (aerospace, caustic cleaning agents, specialized glass) applications.

A List of All Rare Earth Elements

Z Element Symbol Use
21 Scandium Sc Aerospace framework, high-intensity street lamps, high performance equipment
39 Yttrium Y TV sets, cancer treatment drugs, enhances strength of alloys
57 Lanthanum La Camera lenses, battery-electrodes, hydrogen storage
58 Cerium Ce Catalytic converters, colored glass, steel production
59 Praseodymium Pr Super-strong magnets, welding goggles, lasers
60 Neodymium Nd Extremely strong permanent magnets, microphones, electric motors of hybrid automobiles, laser
61 Promethium Pm Not usually found in Nature
62 Samarium Sm Cancer treatment, nuclear reactor control rods, X-ray lasers
63 Europium Eu Color TV screens, fluorescent glass, genetic screening tests
64 Gadolinium Gd Shielding in nuclear reactors, nuclear marine propulsion, increases durability of alloys
65 Terbium Tb TV sets, fuel cells, sonar systems
66 Dysprosium Dy Commercial lighting, hard disk devices, transducers
67 Holmium Ho Lasers, glass coloring, High-strength magnets
68 Erbium Er Glass colorant, signal amplification for fiber optic cables, metallurgical uses
69 Thulium Tm High efficiency lasers, portable x-ray machines, high temperature superconductor
70 Ytterbium Yb Improves stainless steel, lasers, ground monitoring devices
71 Lutetium Lu Refining petroleum, LED light bulbs, integrated circuit manufacturing

(Z = Atomic Number)

 Elements 29, 61 = Rare Earths
 Elements 57 – 60, 62 = Light Rare Earth Elements
 Elements 39, 63 – 71 = Heavy Rare Earth Elements

Rare earths elements are also being used for a growing number of applications. At the forefront of this wave of discovery are new technologies being developed for computer science uses, industrial engineering, renewable energy sciences and military applications.

Here are a few examples of how rare earth elements are being utilized in the world today:


  • Television screens, computers, cell phones, silicon chips, monitor displays, long-life rechargeable batteries, camera lenses, light emitting diodes (LEDs), compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), baggage scanners, marine propulsion systems.


  • High strength magnets, metal alloys, stress gauges, ceramic pigments, colorants in glassware, chemical oxidizing agent, polishing powders, plastics creation, as additives for strengthening other metals, automotive catalytic converters.

Medical Science:

  • Portable x-ray machines, x-ray tubes, magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) contrast agents, nuclear medicine imaging, cancer treatment applications, and for genetic screening tests, medical and dental lasers.


  • Lasers, optical glass, fiber optics, masers, radar detection devices, nuclear fuel rods, mercury-vapor lamps, highly reflective glass, computer memory, nuclear batteries, high temperature superconductors.

Renewable Energy:

  • Hybrid automobiles, wind turbines, next generation rechargeable batteries, biofuel catalysts.

Other interesting facts about uses for rare earths:

  • The rare earth element europium is being used as a way to identify legitimate bills for the Euro bill supply and to dissuade counterfeiting.
  • An estimated 1 kg of rare earth elements can be found inside a typical hybrid automobile.
  • Holmium has the highest magnetic strength of any element and is used to create extremely powerful magnets. This application can reduce the weight of many motors.


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