Erbium. Though it sounds like a name created by one of the less than stellar characters from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, erbium is actually one of Earth’s rare elements. In fact, it is often found combined with a variety of other elements in its natural state on Earth. If you are interested in learning a great deal more about this rare elemental metal, then keep reading. We’ve listed 10 super facts about this rarely discussed metal below.
1. Carl Gustaf Mosander is the man who discovered erbium in 1843 and he named it after the nearby Swedish village of Ytterby. Erbia was discovered by Mosander after he searated yttria into three separate fractions from gadolinite.
2. Surprisingly, what was once thought to be erbia was actually later found to be another element called terbia. This occurred in 1860 and, by 1877, the element that was being called erbia was renamed terbia.
3. The erbium concentration in the crust of the Earth is estimated to be 2.8 mg/kg; however, in the oceans and seas, it is estimated to be about 0.9 ng/L, making erbium the 45th most abundant element within Earth’s crust.
4. Erbium has never been found in its pure form in nature, but it can be found within the sand ores of monazite.
5. Erbium, like many of the rare earths, is not only expensive, but difficult to remove from the ores that it is found bound to. However, ion-exchange techniques that were created in the latter part of the 20th century have been able to help reduce erbium production costs and make separating this element from other ores much easier.
6. The main two traditional, commercial sources for erbium were xenotime and euxenite. More recently, China has overtaken the position of global principal supplier by locating and producing erbium found in ion adsorption clays.
7. Erbium is produced by crushing minerals and allowing them to be attacked either sulfuric or hydrochloric acid. This transforms any insoluble oxides into chlorides that are soluble or sulfates. Caustic soda then neutralizes any acidic filtrates and thorium will precipitate from the solution for removal. It will then be treated to convert the rare earths to insoluble oxalates via ammonium oxalate. These oxalates are then annealed to create oxides, which are then dissolved using nitric acid. Magnesium nitrate is used to produce the double salts.
8. Once the double salts are produced, the ion exchange process is set into motion, thus washing out selective ions. The erbium will then be obtained from either salts or oxides by heating the salts or oxides with calcium in temperatures of 1450 degrees Celsius.
9. Erbium is widely used due to its remarkable resilience. It is frequently used to form photographic filters, in the creation of nuclear technology and to create metallurgical additives.
10. Erbium is also frequently used in its oxide form to color glass, porcelain and cubic zirconia. In addition, erbium-doped silica-glass fibers frequently are used to create optical communications materials. Erbium is also widely used in dermatology and dentistry applications.