What are rare earth elements?
1. The 17 rare earth elements (REE) include the 15 Lanthanides (atomic numbers 57 — which is Lanthanum — to 71 in the periodic table) plus Scandium (atomic number 21) and Yttrium (39).
2. They are moderately abundant in earth’s crust but not concentrated enough to make them economically exploitable. The REEs find key applications in defence, electronics, energy systems etc. For instance, magnets made from rare earths are many times more powerful than conventional ones.
3. Along with energy critical elements (ECE), such as, lithium which has become ubiquitous battery material, REEs have emerged as strategic elements essential for sustainable energy systems.
4. REEs are characterised by high density, high melting point, high conductivity and high thermal conductance.
5. REEs are classified as light RE elements (LREE) and heavy RE elements (HREE).
6. Some REEs are available in India — such as Lanthanum, Cerium, Neodymium, Praseodymium and Samarium, etc. Others such as Dysprosium, Terbium, and Europium, which are classified as HREEs, are not available in Indian deposits in extractable quantities. Hence, there is a dependence on countries such as China for HREEs, which is one of the leading producers of REEs, with an estimated 70 per cent share of the global production.
Why are these minerals important?
1. Minerals like Cobalt, Nickel, and Lithium are required for batteries used in electric vehicles.
2. REEs are an essential — although often tiny — component of more than 200 consumer products, including mobile phones, computer hard drives, electric and hybrid vehicles, semiconductors, flatscreen TVs and monitors, and high-end electronics.
Strategic Importance of Rare Earths
- Indian RE reserves are richer in lighter fractions and are deficient in heavier ones.
- Indian reserves of Titanium and Zirconium are complementary to use RE.
- Applications of Rare Earths are significant in view of their usage in conventional and non-conventional sources of energy utilization. (In particular with reference to the 3-stage nuclear energy programme of the country)
- Every 3 to 5 years a new use for Rare Earth material is being discovered and the pattern of their usage is significantly changed in every decade.
- Very close association of industry with research and development activities are essential for developing effective future marketing strategies for these products.
- Most of the Rare Earth products finding high tech use are related to strategic areas viz. Defense, fibre optic communications, space and nuclear energy etc.
- The country should be self-sufficient in assimilating and developing the high technology rare earth applications.
- Dependence on a single country as a supply source for these rare earths materials may not be desirable.
- Pricing of Rare Earth products from the view of developing its market is dependent on its sustainability in various applications and sensitivity to price of ultimate product/service.
Monazite Sands in India
Source: Department of Atomic Energy
The major deposits which contain monazite (thorium and REE ore mineral) are :
- Chavara barrier beach and Eastern Extension,
- Kollam district, Kerala
- Manavalakurichi beach sand deposit, Kanniyakumari district, Tamil Nadu
- Sathankulam Teri sand deposit, Tamil Nadu
- Ovari Manapadu Teri Sand deposit, Tamil Nadu
- Navaladi-Ovari Teri Sand deposit, Tamil Nadu
- Kuduraimoli Teri Sand deposit, Tamil Nadu
- Bhimunipatnam beach sand deposit, Andhra Pradesh
- Kandivalasa beach sand deposit, Andhra Pradesh
- Kalingapatanam beach sand deposit, Andhra Pradesh
- Srikurman beach sand deposit, Andhra Pradesh
- Bhavanapadu beach sand deposit, Andhra Pradesh
- Gopalpur beach sand deposit, Odisha
- Chhatrapur beach sand deposit, Odisha
- Brahmagiri beach sand deposit, Odisha
Processing of Monazite:
1. Indian Rare Earth Limited (IREL), a Mini Ratna Company, is a Government of India Undertaking under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and KMML, a Kerala State Government Undertaking, are actively engaged in mining and processing of beach sand minerals from placer deposits.
2. IREL is the only entity processing monazite to produce Rare Earth (RE) compounds.
3. The recent amendment to Atomic Mineral Concession Rules (AMCR) 2016 stipulates reserving all Beach Sand Mines (BSM) deposits containing more than 0.75 per cent monazite in the Total Heavy Minerals (THM) for Government-owned corporations.