The periodic table lists chemical elements in order of the number of protons in their nucleus. Elements on the bottom row--those that have protons numbering in the 60s and 90s--are called rare earth minerals, and they are what make your mobile phones and computers hum.
Rare earth minerals such as lithium, neodymium and uranium are essential to magnets that are prevalent in daily devices and in "green technologies" such as hybrid vehicles.
The U.S. military also uses these minerals for technology in missile guidance and security with communication systems. While scientists and government officials seek opportunities for cleaner technologies, these minerals are essential to alternative energy plans.
In the 1940s, mines in central California were the world's largest producers of these rare earth minerals but in 2002, the last of those mines, Mountain Pass, closed. China currently has a global monopoly on mining and producing these valuable resources. Mark Smith the CEO of Molycorp, a company that owns Mountain Pass, has begun lobbying the U.S. Congress for a bill that will jump start the U.S. rare earth mineral mining sector once again.
Mining experts estimate that it will be at least another 15 years before rare earth minerals from U.S. mines are viable for consumption. In the meantime, efforts have begun to ensure the mines are using environmentally friendly policies. As mining expert Jack Lifton said, "You want a green future, you want to go on the path to a green future, the path starts with a mine."
"You want a green future, you want to go on the path to a green future, that path starts at a mine. The first step in the supply chain for the green world is the mine. And people who have knee-jerk reaction, well, mining is evil, mining is bad, mining is dirty, then forget green. Your world will be black." Jack Lifton, director, Technology Metals Research, LLC
"Rare earths are the elements at the bottom row of that periodic table studied in high schools around the world, neodymium, samarium, dysprosium, 17 in all." Kira Kay
"95 percent of the world's rare earth supplies are mined and refined, produced soup to nuts, in just one place, China." Kira Kay
1. What are rare earth minerals? Can you name any?
2. How do manufacturers get raw materials such as metals and minerals? Where do they come from?
3. What do magnets do? Why are they important?
1. What did you learn about rare earth minerals from this video?
2. What devices do you own or use that contain rare earth minerals?
3. How can you be more environmentally friendly in your daily life?