‘Rare’ has nothing to do with steaks or seldom seen animals but something far more important that we all use and indeed have in your possession if you own a mobile phone: rare metals. The use of them is largely because of their active states in moving electrons round so are handy in electronics. You don’t need much of these metals per phone but contributes to their small size by keeping the weight down. Keith Veronese’s book gives reference to the fact that China has had the deposits of many of these elements and by flooding the market back in the 1970s at cheap prices, put other countries companies who dug for them out of business. With a greater reliance on them now, China has literally cornered the market and should they stop selling them, the western world would really be in dire straits. As such, it is in your interest to read this book and discover why these seventeen rare earth metals are so important and just what they do and ensure proper recycling.
From the start, Veronese points out how many molecules of various metals are per volume in the world because it gives a comparison to their abundance or rather lack of them. Most of the elements of the Periodic Table make up 1% of the mass of the Earth. There is also a slight problem of how to extract these metals in their pure form which complicates things especially as several of them can be found in the same deposits.
Something I hadn’t known before was how the likes of gold, osmium, palladium and platinum are attracted to iron containing rock and why they need deep mining to get at them.
For the record, among the rare earth metals are rhodium, ruthenium, palladium, tellurium, rhenium, osmium and iridium. There are the usual suspects like gold and platinum but, in comparison, are more abundant. Three of them are used in catalytic converters in your cars. You would think that recycling after use would be considered an important step in any country’s economy to reuse these metals than waste them. Most of these rare earth metals belong to the lanthanides row in the Periodic Table and if you know your chemistry will be aware that these elements have similar properties. Reading his description of how some of the chemicals are dangerously extracted in third world countries makes me wonder why proper processing isn’t done elsewhere, especially considering how precious these elements are. To just throw away some electrical gadgets than proper recycling seems awfully wasteful for a limited supply of elements. Sorry if I keep emphasising this but it’s one of the strongest messages you get from reading this book on these elements’ importance.
What did surprise me was Veronese’s occasional reference to our genre. Whether it was for common comparison, even if only for inaccuracy, is hard to say until I checked his biographical notes and he’s written for the TwoMorrows publishing company. He does point out that the ‘Superman’ newspaper strip was the first to use the cyclotron and its purpose as an atom smasher and got the ire of the US government which resulted in the removal of reference to atomic energy and weapons from comics for a decade or so. I had a think about its next use and, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it was in Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men # 41’s ‘Origin Of Cyclops’ to beat Jack O’Diamonds.
Seeing how some of the rare earth elements are used in the power rods of nuclear reactors shows their importance in the basic needs of electricity. I’m less sure about showing their use as poisons. Not that we aren’t aware of this from the news, especially with the use of polonium, I would have thought this as a lot rarer although I can see the argument to protect the people who mine them.
From what Veronese points out, countries like Afghanistan and even Antarctica have a lot of rare mineral deposits available but have their own problems for mining. Compared to what happened in Jamaica with the red slurry, I think this and legislation would be better control pollutant disasters.
For his final chapter, Veronese looks out into the solar system and specifically the asteroids as a mineral source. Although I can’t see these elements being returned to Earth, I can see it being used as a resource out there than taking them up.
‘Rare’ is a very enlightening book about our planet’s resources and how little we have taken care of it. The fact that it is openly acknowledged that these was manipulated by China to stop other countries mining for them seems immensely stupid and short-sighted by them although a smart move from the orient. Read this book and take a close look at the technology you use and realise how precious it is before you chuck it away when it breaks down.
(pub: Prometheus Books. 270 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: $25.00 (US), $26.50 (CAN), £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61614-972-7)
check out website: www.prometheusbooks.com