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Oxide reduction processes in the preparation of rare-earth metals

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2013, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 38-44

Gupta, C.K.; Krishnamurthy, N.


The rare earths in elemental form are required for a variety of scientific and technological purposes. They are not easily obtained in this form, due to the great chemical stability of the rare-earth compounds and the strong tendency of elemental metals to react with everything they come in to contact with, especially at high temperatures. Beginning in the 1950s, when sufficient quantities of separated rare earths became available, as the result of intense research and development, three processing routes were developed to accomplish the preparation of all 16 naturally occurring rare-earth elements. They are chemical reduction of the halide intermediates, the oxides and electrochemical reduction of chlorides and oxide-fluoride mixtures. Not all the processes are effective with all the rare earths. In spite of the celebrated similarity of trivalent rare earths, the physical properties of individual rare-earth elements are sufficiently different that a variety of techniques are required for their preparation. The development of reduction processes for the rare-earth metals are covered in this paper, with focus on the oxide reduction routes. The strong reliance of effective reduction processes on the fundamental science of reduction reactions is highlighted.