(Casper Star Tribune, September 27) – Here’s the funny thing about rare earth elements: they’re not particularly rare. The minerals are everywhere in the earth’s crust, including the gravel in your driveway. But only in isolated places in the world do they occur in large enough deposits to mine economically.
Rare earths are a combination of 17 elements on the periodic table. Deposits, and how much they’re worth, vary by the amount and quality of each type. Even among the 17, experts consider a handful to be critical rare earths, which means they are even more rare, and valuable.
The Wyoming project has 10 of the rare earths in quantity and quality worth mining. More than 80 percent of the mine’s value at current prices are contained in six elements.
Each serves a slightly different purpose in most of our modern technology from iPhones to precision-guided missiles. Below are explanations of the six critical rare earths found in the Bear Lodge Project.
Neodymium: It’s what makes your phone vibrate. The element is critical in the production of tiny magnets used in cell phones, ABS brake systems, lasers and cruise control.
Yttrium: It is used in various types of lasers, LEDs, metal alloys, chemical production and super conductors. The military has also identified it as one of the rare earth’s the U.S. is lacking.
Praseodymium: Welders and glassmakers use this element to filter yellow light. It is also in magnets.
Europium: This is the most valuable of the rare earth elements, used primarily in florescent lamps, anti-counterfeiting devices in European currency and glassmaking. The Bear Lodge site has the largest deposit in the U.S.
Dysprosium: Demand for dysprosium is growing because of its uses in hybrid vehicles, wind turbines and cruise missiles. Allied with other elements it becomes corrosion and heat resistant.
Terbium: Specialists mix terbium with neodymium to produce super magnets used in electric vehicle motors. It is also used in fuel cells and lighting.