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An Introduction to Erbium

Erbium (Er), one of the so-called rare-earth elements of the lanthanide series is found in a variety of minerals such as xenotime, fergusonite, gadolinite, euxenite, polycrase and blomstrandine.

It was in 1842 that Mosander separated “yttria” found in gadolinite into three (3) fractions named yttria, erbia and terbia. In this period erbia was confused with terbia, and in doing so terbia became erbia.

Therefore, the new erbia was found to consist of five (5) oxides to be known as erbia, scandia, holmia, thulia and ytterbia.

It was not until later that Urban and James in 1905 independently succeeded in isolating fairly pure Er2O3 (erbia).

However it was not until 1934 that Klemm and Bommer produced reasonably pure erbium metal by the reducing the anhydrous chloride with potassium vapour.

In its pure form the metal is soft and malleable and has a bright silvery, metallic lustre. Like most rare-earth metals, its properties will vary depending on the extent of impurities present.

It does not oxides as rapidly as some of the other rare-earth metals, and therefore is fairly stable in air.

It has high electrical resistivity and has properties like dysprosium and holmium. It is always found along with other rare earths, and is found in small quantities in the same minerals as dysprosium (fergusonite, gadolinite, and xenotime).

Its abundance in the Earth's crust is 3.8 ppm. It gradually tarnishes in air, reacts slowly with water, and dissolves in acids.

Naturally occurring erbium is a mixture of six (6) isotopes, all of which are stable. There are nine (9) radioactive isotopes of erbium recognised.


Erbium is finding uses in nuclear and metallurgical industries. When added to vanadium, erbium lowers the hardness and improves workability.

As a salt it exhibits beautiful pastel colour, erbium oxide gives a pink colour and has been used as a colorant in glasses and porcelain enamel glazes.

The Nuclear industry is one of mant industries who are finding uses for Erbium.

The Nuclear industry is one of mant industries who are finding uses for Erbium. Image Credits: shutterStock.com/Meryll

It was discovered by C.G. Mosander in 1842 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Erbium has limited applications as a pure metal, but is used as an alloying element with titanium. It is also used to make infra-red absorbing glass. Erbium oxide is used within the ceramics industry to create a pink glaze.

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