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You readers know, don’t you?

Rare earth metals are among the most sought-after substances on the planet, powering everything from smartphones to electric cars and wind turbines. Yet few people can name them, let alone explain what they are used for.

Although even I struggle sometimes. Holmium, for example, used in the supercollider or whatever it is that’s at Cern. Other than that I once sold a kg to someone who makes calibration lenses for electrophotometers or summat like that. Other than that, no clue what it is used for. Ytterbium? Ummm…..

At the vanguard of efforts to break our dependence on Beijing for supplies of rare earths is a British company that will start building a £125m rare earth minerals processing plant at the Port of Hull in Yorkshire this summer. It aims to have it up and running by next year.

London-listed Pensana, which raised £10m in late December in a share placing in which fund giant M&G took a 5pc stake, is one of only three major producers outside of China and the only in Europe.

Its minerals separation facility, to be built in Saltend Chemicals Plant, aims to produce enough refined metals to meet 5pc of global demand – it has the potential to be one of the world’s largest hubs of rare earths processing.

And now we all know more than the Telegraph. The Saltend plant is to make oxides, not metals. Sigh.

11 thoughts on “You readers know, don’t you?”

  1. The writer sneers that ‘few people can name them’ then promptly includes a chart showing demand for cobalt, lithium and nickel, none of which are rare earths.

  2. The lifetime of this plant’s licence to operate, once the PTB realise it produces radioactive thorium byproduct is 5…4…3…

    Europium used to be used for the red phosphors in CRT, but now its all flat screen, I think only € banknotes.

  3. Having some experience of Co2 lasers, I was quite surprised to find out (at the time) that all the optics had to be disposed of properly, since all the ZnSe lenses had a coating of Thorium Fluoride, and were therefor mildly radioactive.

  4. Yttrium, Yterbium, Terbium, Erbium. Easy to remember, they’re all named after Ytterby. Then they went naming after various quarries across Europe. Scandi(navia)um, Europ(e)ium, Whatever-latin-for-Paris-ium, (Stock)holmium. After that I have to look them up, things like “hard-to-find”-ium, “green”-ium, “famous-person”-ium, “split-in-two”-ium. And of course Lanthanium, which is the parent of the series.

  5. ‘few people can name them’

    As taught in the pre-woke days of 1961:

    Ladies Certainly Need Nude Promiscuous Smoking; Eugenics Goad Turbulent Dishwashers Homewards Early Timely Yeilding Luscious (H)offspring

  6. Theeeeeeeeeeere’s….
    yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium
    and boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium
    and strontium and silicon and silver and samarium
    and bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium, and barium


    Wonderful (and amazing) to see that Tom Lehrer is still alive – at 93!

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