Rare Earth Elements Reserve Found in Andhra Pradesh and why are they important?

Scientists have discovered 15 Rare Earth Elements Reserves in the Anantapur city of Andhra Pradesh. The elements include Lanthanum, Cerium, Praseodymium, Neodymium, Yttrium, Hafnium, Tantalum, Niobium, Zirconium, and Scandium.

Scientists from National Geophysical Research Institute, based in Hyderabad, said on Tuesday, 4th April 2023, that they found large deposits of 15 Light Rare Earth Elements.

The announcement comes after the Geological Survey of India discovered 5.9 million tonnes of lithium reserve in the Reasi district in Jammu and Kashmir.

“We found strong anomalous (enriched) Light Rare Earth Elements (La, Ce, Pr, Nd, Y, Nb and Ta) in whole rock analyses, confirming the minerals hosting these REE,” senior principal scientist in NGRI Dr PV Sunder Raju was quoted by PTI as saying.

The rare-earth elements (REE), also called the rare-earth metals or are a set of 17 nearly indistinguishable lustrous silvery-white soft heavy metals.

Rare earth elements have certain unique electronic and magnetic properties which are useful for making many modern-day powerful magnets, lasers, lenses, and electronic devices. Under the right physical conditions, they work as very good catalysts, improving or decreasing the rate of reactions.

They are also used for producing defence equipment, aircraft and jets like US's F-22 Raptor.

Rare earth elements are used to produce batteries, EVs and solar panels which are essential for fighting climate change.

The discovery of the REEs was part of a study funded by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-India) under a project called SHORE (Shallow subsurface imaging Of India for Resource Exploration).

“Under this project umbrella, our focussed objective was ‘Detailed understanding of RM (Rare Metals)-REE metallogeny, assessment of resources and identifying economically potential sites, especially from the carbonatite-syenite complexes of Andhra Pradesh’,” Dr PV Sunder Raju was quoted by PTI as saying.

India has a vast land, and there are multiple spots with the possibility of rare earth element deposits. There are a lot of places in the world where these elements are found, but the problem is that they are naturally found in compounds and the form of their oxides.

The problem is they are hard to separate from their compounds; for economic purposes, it is better to look for deposits where rare earth elements are present in separated forms. China dominates the market in producing and processing these elements.

United States and Australia have the largest deposits of rare earth metals, but they cannot process them at the rate China does because of the pollution caused during the processing of these metals, so they have to rely on China,

China controls the world's supply of rare earth elements, and it can disrupt its anytime according to its needs like it did when it banned the exports of rare earth elements to its neighbour Japan.

India has the fifth largest reserves of rare earth elements, but still, we imported them till now when we have the technology to process metals from our mines. With the discovery of the fifth mine of rare earth metals in India, we are now completely self-reliant for our needs, and we can also export them to the world if China cuts down the supply.

The question arises of how the government will figure out a way to extract these minerals without causing much pollution.

Rare earth emblems are needed for a greener future. But in extracting them, we cause a lot of pollution. We have to develop more advanced technologies which can make their refining pollution-free.