Refinement of as-cast structures is one of the most effective approaches to improve mechanical properties, formability, and surface quality of steel castings and ingots. In the past few decades, addition of rare earths (REs), lanthanum and cerium in particular, has been considered as a practical and effective method to refine the as-cast steels. However, previous reports contained inconsistent, sometime even contradictory, results. This review summaries the major published results on investigation of the roles of lanthanum or/and cerium in various steels, provides reviews on the similarity and difference of previous studies, and clarifies the inconsistent results. The proposed mechanisms of grain refinement by the addition of lanthanum or/and cerium are also reviewed. It is concluded that the grain refinement of steels by RE additions is attributed to either heterogeneous nucleation on the in-situ formed RE inclusions, a solute effect, or the combined effect of both. The models/theories for evaluation of heterogeneous nucleation potency and for solute effect on grain refinement of cast metals are also briefly summarized.
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