Saturday, February 25, 2012

TMI: Rare earths and us — by Jonathan Fun

Rare earths and us — Jonathan Fun

TMI: February 25, 2012
FEB 25 — Before anyone of you proceed to the Himpunan Hijau rally tomorrow, I would like to share with you some solid facts about rare earth metals:
1. Smartphones, like your iPhones and Androids, will not be able to vibrate without a small, powerful rare earth magnet made of neodymium (Element 60).
2. The heart of a wind turbine is a permanent magnet that’s made from neodymium that helps generate electricity from mechanical energy propelled by the turbines.
3. Each Toyota Prius contains five pounds of lanthanum (Element 57) and 2.2 pounds of neodynium.
4. Speakers used to be made with huge iron magnets. Substitute a neodymium rare earth magnet, and you get ear bud headphones and smartphone speakers.
5. Compact energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs rely on a coating of the rare earth metal terbium (Element 65) to create a bright white glow.
6. The military relies heavily on rare earths on its equipment. A coating of yttrium (Element 65), which can withstand huge amounts of heat, is found inside jet exhaust systems.
7. Samarium (Element 62), which is resistant to radiation that would come from a nuclear or magnetic field attacks, is key to magnets in missiles and other weapons used by military forces around the world.
8. You could watch television in colour without rare earth elements, but it will be dull like those dim, barely coloured images from the 1950s. In the 1960s, europium (Element 63) was added to television screens, bringing brilliant reds. Terbium produced bright green hues.
9. Cerium (Element 58) is the most abundant rare earth metal. It is used in catalytic converters and other pollution control equipment. It’s also added to diesel fuel to help it burn more efficiently. Which means you will find rare earth metals in almost all vehicles on the road today.
10. Dysprosium (Element 66) is used in lasers, fuel injectors, compact discs and increasingly in hybrid vehicles.
11. Europium is also a part of the chemical process to screen for Down’s syndrome in a patient.
12. Erbium (Element 68) is used to produce photographic filters, sunglasses, jewellery and fibre optical amplifiers.
13. Holmium (Element 67) has the greatest magnetic strength of any element, and is used in medical/dental and nuclear control rods.
Before you reject rare earths, please understand that we are one way or another a beneficiary of these metals. Rare earth elements are neither rare, nor earth. The name dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries when the elements were first isolated out of actually rare minerals found from the soil.
Lanthanum (Element 57), first discovered in 1893, is a fine example of this. There’s more lanthanum on this planet than silver or lead and it’s the second most abundant rare earth element, but there weren’t a lot applications back then.
So totally rejecting rare earths (like holding a placard saying “Anti-Rare Earth”) will be completely hypocritical on oneself, unless one proclaims that he/she doesn’t benefit from any of the 13 points I’ve stated above, by which if it is the case, I humbly apologise for stereotyping.
Go to the gathering tomorrow with a clear conscience that you are promoting and demanding responsible, safe handling of radioactive wastes by Lynas, not to reject them. Because if radioactivity by rare earths is truly the main reason why one rejects this plant, I am very sorry to inform that we are, at this very present moment, already exposed to plenty of them through the devices that we use in our daily lives.
And I hope those who are attending will not dispose of their used plastic bottles and polystyrene packaging all over the place. There’s plenty of garbage bins around the field.
Have a great green weekend.
* Jonathan Fun reads The Malaysian Insider.

No comments: