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Rare Earth Elements Metallurgy

r4 – Economically strategic materials: SEM² – Rare Earth Elements Metallurgy-Advanced methods for optimized extraction and beneficiation by ion-adsorption clays

The increasing risk of supply, procurement and cost of critical technology metals (such as Rare Earth Elements, REE) requires new mining strategies and technologies as well as the development of innovative, economic and environmentally sustainable processes.

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Ion-adsorption clays in southern China are worldwide the main source of heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREE). Their particular physical and chemical properties make REE essential ingredients of green-energy appliances incl. wind-energy generators, high-tech electronic products, and electric and hybrid vehicles. Less than 1% of the current REE demand derives through recycling substantiating the importance of environmentally sustainable extraction and processing of these elements.

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REE-enrichments in ion-adsorption clay deposits (i.e. laterite deposits) result from intense chemical weathering of REE-rich source rocks exposed to tropical climates. Thereby laterite soils form above the source rock and are successively enriched in Rare Earth Elements.

For more than two decades those deposits have been mined in southern China by surface- and mountain-top mining causing severe environmental damages such as groundwater contamination, soil erosion and the loss of entire ecosystems. About 200 comparable REE-rich ion-adsorption clay deposits exist worldwide (e.g. Madagascar, Laos, Suriname, Brazil). Consequently, any alternative and optimized mining technology for this type of deposit will not only bear on the resource efficiency and environmental sustainability in China, but will also provide numerous alternative sources of REE.

Project coordinator

Dr. Wilfried Hüls

G.U.B. Ingenieur AG
R&D Division
Gutenbergplatz 1c, 04103 Leipzig
Germany

Telefon:  +49 (0)341 231 0215
Telefax:  +49 (0)341 231 0223
E-Mail:    wilfried.huels@gub-ing.de