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Europe’s largest known deposit of rare earth elements found in Sweden: Could the discovery change geopolitics?

GS-1: Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian subcontinent).


Recently, Swedish state-owned mining company, LKAB discovered the largest known (more than one million tonnes) rare earth oxides deposit in Europe in the northern area of the country. At present, Europe imports rare earth elements and no rare earths are mined in Europe. 98 per cent rare earths used by the Europe is exported by China. The discovery will reduce dependence of western countries on China.


Rare Earth Elements (REE)

  • REEs are set of 17 metal (chemical) in the periodic table, which includes 15 lanthanides, scandium and yttrium.
  • They are found from the same ore deposits and have same chemical properties.
  • They are characterised by high density, high melting point, high conductivity and high thermal conductance.
  • Some of these REEs are considered as critical based on-
  • The importance of specific application.
  • Lack of comparable and reliable substitutes.
  • Geopolitical constraints.
  • Their importance for the strategic sectors.

Classification of REEs

  • They are classified in 2 distinct segments
Light Rare-Earth Elements (LREE) 
  • They have have no paired electrons.
  • They include 8 elements–
  • Lanthanum (La, 57)
  • Cerium (Ce, 58)
  •  Most abundant rare earth element.
  • Praseodymium (Pr, 59)
  • Neodymium (Nd, 60)
  • Promethium (Pm, 61)
    It is the only radio-active rare earth element.
  • Samarium (Sm, 62)
  • Europium (Eu, 63)
  • Gadolinium (Gd, 64)
Heavy Rare-Earth Elements (HREE)
  • HREE have paired electrons (a clockwise and counter-clockwise spinning electron).
  • They are scarce and more expensive than LREE.
  • They include – 
  • Terbium (Tb, 65)
  • Dysprosium (Dy, 66)
  • Holmium (Ho, 67)
  • Erbium (Er, 68)
  • Thulium (Tm, 69)
  • Ytterbium (Yb, 70)
  • Lutetium (Lu, 71)
  • Scandium (Sc, 21)
  • Yttrium (Y, 39)

Source of REEs

  • Most of these elements are not really “rare”.
  • Found abundantly in the Earth's crust but they are rarely existing in their pure form.
  • The principal sources of rare earth elements are-
  • Bastnaesite: A fluorocarbonate which occurs in carbonatites and related igneous rocks.
  • Xenotime (yttrium phosphate): Commonly found in mineral sand deposits.
  • Loparite: Occurs in alkaline igneous rocks and monazite (a phosphate).
  • In India, monazite is the principal source of rare earths and thorium.
  • They are usually found within other minerals in low concentrations that are not economically exploitable.
  • Producing REE from mineral sands is cheap, as it comes as a by-product of industrial mineral mining.
  • Found in the waste tailings of old mining projects.

Applications of REE

  • Important in technologies of consumer electronics, computers and networks, communications, clean energy, advanced transportation, healthcare, environmental mitigation, and national defence.
  • They are also used in space shuttle components, jet engine turbines, and drones.
  • Cerium is essential to NASA’s Space Shuttle Programme.
  • Used to generate cleaner renewable energy.
  • Neodymium and dysprosium are used in wind turbine motors.         
  • Electric Vehicles have also raised demand for the rare earth magnets — made from neodymium, boron, and iron — and batteries.
  • Scandium: Televisions and fluorescent lamps.
  • Yttrium: Drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
  • Lanthanum: Night-vision goggles
  • Neodymium: Laser range-finders, Guidance systems, Communications
  • Europium: Fluorescents and phosphors in lamps and monitors
  • Erbium: Amplifiers in fiber-optic data transmission
  • Samarium: Permanent magnets that are stable at high temperatures, Precision-guided weapons, White noise" production in stealth technology.

REE in India

  • Geologically the entire landmass around the Indian Ocean contains REEs in the surrounding rocks. 
  • The entire coastline of the Indian Ocean is enriched in black colour mineral sands containing REEs. 
  • Monazite mineral in association with other minerals such as ilmenite, rutile, zircon, etc. in the beach sands and inland placer deposits are the main source of REE in India.

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Fact Files

Maghi Mela 

  • Festival of Sikhs
  • Celebrated: In the city of Sri Muktsar Sahib, Punjab every year on 13th January generally, or on the month of Magh according to the Nanakshahi calendar.
  • Purpose: In memory of 40 Sikh warriors who fought for Guru Gobindh Singh Ji and were killed fighting the Mughals in the Battle of Khidrana on 29 December 1705. (Fought near a pool of water, Khidrane di Dhab)
  • After the battle, Khidrana was renamed as Muktsar, or the pool of liberation.
  • Main Attractions: Political conferences
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  • Modesty is not defined in Indian Penal Code (IPC)though the Supreme Court in Ramkripal vs State of Madhya Pradesh case (2007) said that “The essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex and the culpable intention of the accused is the crux of the matter. Although, the reaction of the woman is very relevant, but its absence is not always decisive.”
  • Thus, the Supreme Court deemed “modesty” as a virtue, which attaches to a female owing to her sex.
  • For example, the act of pulling a woman, removing her saree, coupled with a request for sexual intercourse with the knowledge that her modesty might be outraged is sufficient to constitute the offence even without any deliberate intention.
  • Punishment: Outraging the modesty of a woman is a cognisable and non-bailable offence under IPC Section 354which prescribes either a jail term of up to five years or a fine or both for the offence.
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