Innovation and opportunity: Seeking uncommon solutions in rare earths
This article gives a brief overview of challenges in the use of rare earth elements. Solutions to address geopolitical and sustainability concerns are being developed by green chemists all over the world. Universities, national research labs and businesses alike are seeking more environmentally friendly methods of rare earth extraction or entirely novel approaches to achieving functions similar to those provided by rare earths
Slowly but surely the world is waking up to the reality and consequences that come with a disposable tech culture. In May 2009, The Atlantic revealed “clean energy’s dirty little secret,” the story of how green technologies are currently made possible through the use of rare earth elements (1).
Just last year, the BBC featured an article detailing the disturbing conditions in and around an Inner Mongolia rare earths processing factory (2).
While the efforts of journalists and scientists seeking to raise awareness about the environmental and geopolitical issues surrounding rare earth elements have not inspired broad action, many different groups are seeking sustainable solutions.
Despite their name, these materials are not especially “rare;” certainly, many of them are more abundant in the Earth’s crust than commonly used platinum group metals. The challenges surrounding rare earths have more
to do with their geographic concent ... ...