rare earths: neither rare, nor earths
However, the earth elements have gone deep into the structure of modern life --
The way most of us don\'t notice at all.
15 to 17 of them (
Depends on how you classify them)
Including such exotic sounding substances such as noble, oxidized, CE, Noble, YB, GD ,-
My personal favorite. promethium.
They may not be known, but they have been changing industries.
Wind turbine manufacturing is a good example.
Henrik Stefano is one of the pioneers in the modern wind energy industry.
In his teens, he built his first turbine at a family farm in Denmark and has been refining his design since then.
Now he is the chief technology officer of German engineering giant Siemens, one of the world\'s largest wind turbine manufacturers.
When you walk into his spacious office and overlook the company\'s huge turbine factory on the Danish Jutland Peninsula, the first thing you notice is the interesting antique clock across from his desk.
Its loud ticking sound cannot be ignored.
He was very happy when I asked about it.
This is an original example of a synchronous clock, he said.
\"I bought it to inspire because sometimes I feel the need to rub the nose of my colleagues because people have been working on engineering issues for centuries.
\"It\'s clear that Stiesdal is probably a very demanding boss.
Synchronome was designed more than a century ago in Britain and is the most accurate pendulum ever --
According to recent research, 1 second per 12 years is correct.
He explained that this represents a very elegant answer for the Holo scientists for centuries --
By reducing the mechanism to a single gear.
Until recently, Stiesdal and his colleagues faced similar challenges.
They want to remove the gear system in the turbine.
The wind turbine needs gears because the blades turn about 10 turns per minute, but the generator that converts this turn into electricity runs at a more like 1,500 turns.
The problem is-
Like a clock.
The more complex the mechanism is, the more likely things are to go wrong.
In the world of wind turbines
Offshore turbines in particular
Mechanical failure is very expensive.
You need professional crane boat, engineer and good weather.
The bill soon reached thousands of dollars.
So how does Stiesdal and his team get rid of these gears?
You will guess.
Rare earth is involved.
In the lab at University College London, when I asked Professor Andrea Serra these questions, his face lit up.
Obviously, this family of elements is very close to the heart of the chemist.
\"The first thing you need to know is that they are neither rare nor rare,\" he told me . \".
They are called \"rare\" because it is very unusual to find them in pure form, but it turns out that there are some deposits of them all over the world --
For example, rare earth is the most common element on Earth.
The term \"Earth\" is just an old term for what you can dissolve in acid.
They are classified as a family due to their amazing chemical similarities --
It took a century of chemical investigation to finally isolate them all.
But the chemical similarity of rare earths masks a variety of fascinating, often very useful electrons
Magnetic and optical differences.
To prove this, Andrea produced a test tube containing some rare
Earth element, each element has a different pastel hue
Soft pink, purple, blue and green.
The radioactive element of his collection, promethium, is missing.
Andrea called it \"cuckoo in the nest \".
Promethium does not exist naturally on Earth, but is formed in nuclear reactors.
You may now carry a small amount of promesin as it has been used in glowing paint for some watches.
Andrea launched ultraviolet rays in his collection.
Some are suddenly illuminated by bright fluorescent light.
\"One of the rare incredible properties --
Earth elements produce light of different wavelengths.
\"It\'s all on demand,\" he explained.
It turns out that this property is counter-productive.
Counterfeit system used for euro notes.
Andrea took 50-
The euro note in his wallet is under ultraviolet light.
Bright green and blue stripes and shapes appear with beautiful blue and pink constellationspurple stars.
\"These stars contain eu,\" he said with a smile.
\"It tells me that there is a man with a sense of humor in the heart of the EU.
\"But the optical properties of rare earths can not only stop counterfeiters.
The unique green light on the TV or computer screen is generated using tb, while red is generated by a combination of eu and y (
Is often regarded as an honorary member of rare earth).
But the most useful rare earth
The light generated by Erbium is near-
The infrared spectrum is invisible to the human eye.
However, it can send signals in fiber for several kilometers, which is why most fiber applications in the world use a signal amplifier made of bait.
Rare earth is also crucial for cleaning catalytic converters and glass polishing for automotive waste gas.
But most of us think that rare earths are incredibly magnetic. unwittingly -
The most common use.
Andrea handed me a rectangular, dark gray metal a few centimeters long.
\"Take this,\" he ordered.
I grabbed it with my fist.
He took out a two-penny coin and put it on the back of my hand.
Even through the thickness of my hand, I can feel the magnet pulling on the metal disc.
\"This is a magnet made of nd,\" he explained . \".
\"It is 10 times as strong as a normal iron magnet and can withstand 1,000 times the weight.
\"It is no exaggeration to say that the micromation of technology is impossible without these incredible magnets.
This is a surprising breakthrough recently.
The first magnets using rare earth nd and SC were only developed in 1982, but their findings completely changed various technologies.
Micro-motors that power computer hard drives and micro-speakers on mobile phones and laptops depend on rare --earth magnets.
Nd magnets are used for electric guitar pickups, MRI scanners and microwave ovens.
You can even buy cufflinks that are connected with nd magnets.
They also have the key to Mr Stiesdal\'s challenge --
Get rid of the huge gear mechanism in the wind turbine.
The stronger the magnet, the easier it is to generate electricity at a lower speed.
Induced current generation-
The electrons are driven when the magnet passes through the coil.
The stronger the magnet, the more electrons move.
In a huge engineering shed under Stiesdal\'s office in desten, I saw a new gearless turbine from the company.
It is much more compact than its ancestors.
The core is a ring about five metres in diameter, like a huge doughnut that surrounds the axle.
This ring is 648 22 cm-
Another rare long nd magnet.
The elements of the Earth, the rare earth elements, make them not easily demagnetized.
This means that Henrik Stefano is very proud to tell me that the same power can be generated without any gear system.
The question is how to control rare earths, making this possible.
More than 85% of the world\'s supply of rare resources
Earth metal comes from China.
In fact, 100% of the \"heavy\" rare earth
At the far end of the periodic table-
Dys from China, including Stiesdal.
China has some very rich rare earth reserves in Inner Mongolia.
And, until recently, China has not been very sensitive to the rare consequences.
This is a very dirty business.
Rare earths usually contain radioactive elements, such as uranium and uranium, which require a large amount of toxic chemicals to be separated.
Jack livton, founder of technical metal Research and rare earth expert, describes how the extraction process extracts elements from elements in China.
He said they flooded the Highlands with chemicals and then deposited metal, leaving a lake of carcinogenic waste water.
China has been trying to clean up the industry in recent years.
But it can\'t actually stop production because many
The core technology industry of China\'s economy depends on rare-earth supplies.
At the end of 2010, when China threatened to limit rare earth supply, the world\'s dependence on rare earth in China became very obvious.
The price of the Earth is amazing
Some of them are up to 3,000%.
Since then, the price of rare earths has fallen, but the impact is enough to prompt companies to start exploring production and refining of rare earths elsewhere in the world.
How does Stiesdal respond to this shock?
\"There are a lot of rare earth elements outside of China.
Outside of China, there are several companies that we can run for thousands of years.
\"It turns out that you can adjust the way the alloy is treated so that you can reduce the demand.
We have 0 of today\'s magnets.
7% of dy will disappear in a few years.