Tag: Metcalfe

Geological publication addresses alternatives for vital rare earth element supply concerns

first_imgAmidst increasing concerns over the security of supply for natural resources, especially for high tech electronic, military and environmental applications, the British Geological Survey (BGS) has released a profile on rare earth elements (REE). Currently REE are mined almost exclusively in China, but play a vital and increasing role in a wide range of consumer electronics, in environmental technologies and in military applications. Although rare earth deposits are known in several countries, production in recent years has been strongly concentrated in very few locations. In the light of this, and some issues relating to trade restrictions, there is now considerable concern about the security of supply of these critical materials. To help inform discussion on this issue, the BGS has published a succinct guide to rare earth elements which profiles their uses, geology, mining, processing and trade. The publication talks of several solutions for our growing REE needs that are centred around using substitutes and recycling. However it concludes that, although some REE could be substituted, it would be unlikely that those applications based on specific optical, chemical and certain special magnetic properties would be a candidate for substitution.Recycling rare earths may provide some relief in the short term, particularly for defence applications, which use smaller quantities. But recycling REE from scrap is expensive and difficult while reusing components beyond their normal lifespan can produce problems in quality; leading mining companies say that finding alternative technologies is a long shot because of the unique properties rare earths offer.Companies like Avalon Rare Earths have a more direct approach.  Their flagship project, the Nechalacho REE project, is located at Thor Lake, Northwest Territories in Canada, not China, which produces most of the world’s REE. The project has an Indicated resource of 14.48 Mt, currently entering prefeasibility.        Rare earths are indispensable in electronic, optical, magnetic and catalytic applications and play a vital role in environmental technologies, improving energy efficiency and enabling digital technology. The term ‘rare’ as applied to rare earths is something of a misnomer and arises from the rarity of the minerals from which they were first isolated in the 18th century. The crustal abundance of rare earths as a whole is greater than silver, although individual elements in the group show very wide variation. Consumption of rare earths is growing rapidly, driven by our increasing reliance on digital technology and the growth in use of hybrid and electric vehicles which require relatively large amounts of certain rare earths in their motors.“‘World production of rare earth elements has more than doubled in the last 15 years,” says BGS Head of Minerals Andrew Bloodworth. “Our new publication is the latest in a series which aims to provide up to date, impartial and authoritative commodity profiles to inform debate and policy on security of supply’. A new bill known as the RESTART Act proposes reinvigorating the US rare earth sector through loan guarantees and establishing a national stockpile of the minerals. But a new Government accountability office review names critical defence systems that could not function without rare earths and warns it could take up to 15 years for the US to rebuild a domestic supply chain.last_img read more

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