As defined by IUPAC, a rare earth element (REE) or rare earth metal is one of a set of seventeen chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the fifteen lanthanides, as well as scandium and yttrium.
Scandium and yttrium are considered rare earth elements because they tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides and exhibit similar chemical properties.
Despite their name, rare earth elements (with the exception of the radioactive promethium) are relatively plentiful in Earth’s crust, with cerium being the 25th most abundant element at 68 parts per million (similar to copper).
However, because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found concentrated as rare earth minerals in economically exploitable ore deposits.
It was the very scarcity of these minerals (previously called “earths”) that led to the term “rare earth”.
The first such mineral discovered was gadolinite, a compound of cerium, yttrium, iron, silicon and other elements.
This mineral was extracted from a mine in the village of Ytterby in Sweden; several of the rare earth elements bear names derived from this location.
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