In recent years there has been an increasing focus on rare earth elements (REEs) as highly valuable ingredients for innovation, especially regarding the development of sustainable energy technologies. Rare earth elements, also commonly referred to as rare earth metals, are defined by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) as a group of seventeen elements, consisting of the fifteen lanthanoids, along with scandium and yttrium. Related to the chemical structure and purpose REE can be divided in Light REEs (LREEs) and Heavy REEs (HREEs). Their relative chemical similarity makes them hard to separate during the mining process, but their different physical properties make different REEs valuable for a range of various technological applications. Several of these technologies support sustainable development, for instance through increased energy efficiency and renewable energy production. Examples include – but are not limited to – permanent magnets, batteries for e-mobility and energy-efficient lighting (for further applications see appendix). World-wide demand is expected to grow by 8 to 11% each year. The increase in demand is intertwined with environmental implications of production and existing supply risks due to an intricate and complex market. This has led to the identification of REEs as critical raw materials, which this science digest focus on.
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