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Rare Metal Technology 2019

This collection presents papers from a symposium on extraction of rare metals as well as rare extraction processing techniques used in metal production. Topics include the extraction and processing of elements such as rare earth metals including yttrium and scandium, gold, vanadium, cesium, zinc, copper, tellurium, bismuth, potassium, aluminum, iridium, titanium, manganese, uranium, rhenium, and tungsten. Rare processing techniques covered include supercritical fluid extraction, direct extraction processes for rare-earth recovery, biosorption of precious metals, and recovery of valuable components of commodity metals such as zinc, nickel, and metals from slag.

Rare Metal Technology 2019

As a peer-reviewed and international research journal, Rare Metals provides a forum for publishing full-length, original papers and invited overviews that advance the in-depth understanding of rare metals and their applications. Papers that have a high impact potential and/or substantially advance the frontiers of science and technology are sought. Rare Metals promotes papers precisely and globally to make scientific findings understood by a broad range of readers.

Among these major economies, only Japan has achieved some success at reducing reliance on China. From 2008 to 2018, the share of Japanese rare earth imports from China fell from 91.3 percent to 58 percent. As of 2018, the US still imported 80.5 percent of its rare earths from China. The EU and South Korea have successfully diversified their imports of certain compounds, like cerium, but they remain almost completely reliant on China for imports of rare earth metals and alloys.2 For example, the EU imported 7,105.9 metric tons of cerium compounds in 2018, of which less than one-quarter came from China. However, nearly all (98.5 percent) of its imports of rare earth metals and alloys came from China.

Nearly five years ago, we reported a story on something called rare earth elements. Now, they've become a major element of the U.S.-China trade war. Rare earths are unusual metals that can be found in almost every piece of high tech you can think of: from new cars to precision-guided missiles to the screen you're watching this story on right now.

China poured billions into the industry, ignoring the consequences. We obtained this video from a freelance cameraman showing the area near Baotou, China's rare earth capital, where the air, land and water are so saturated with chemical toxins, the Chinese have had to relocate entire villages. This is one of the few places where rare earths are turned into metals, which are then alloyed -- or blended -- into things like permanent magnets.

The U.S. developed this technology, but China bought most of it right out from under us. For instance, in 1995, China bought the biggest American rare earth magnet company, "Magnequench" which was based in Indiana.

The "rare" in rare-earth elements is a historical misnomer; the persistence of the term reflects unfamiliarity with the elements rather than true scarcity. The U.S. Geological Survey finds the more abundant rare-earth elements are as common in concentration as other industrial metals such as chromium, nickel, tungsten or lead. Even the two least abundant rare-earth elements (thulium and lutetium) are nearly 200 times more common than gold. Where "rare" comes into play is that, in contrast with ordinary base and precious metals, rare-earth elements have little tendency to become concentrated in exploitable ore deposits. Consequently, most rare earths come from a small number of sources.

Rare earths are a critical part of laser- and precision-guided missile technology. Lockheed Martin Corp. is working on a small, high-power laser weapon, heavily reliant on the rare earths erbium and neodymium, that the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory wants to test in a tactical fighter aircraft by 2021.

Kenya is another Chinese target. The East African nation has huge mineral potential, and its exploration efforts have picked up in the last five years with the awarding of commercial licenses in prospecting for oil, gold, coal, geothermal minerals and rare earths. In April 2019, Kenya secured $666 million from China to build a data center in a tech city (likely comprising data centers designed to facilitate internet and communications) currently under construction in Konza, about an hour from Nairobi. Other African countries in China's crosshairs include Cameroon, Angola, Tanzania and Zambia. Tanzania is of particular interest because of the presence of several military-critical rare earths, including neodymium and praseodymium, which are key components in precision-guided munition technology.

Any efforts to boost U.S. access to rare earths require a combination of technological advancement, driven by necessity, and partnerships to reach the regions where these elements are located in abundance. Fortunately, technology is providing plenty of opportunities to enhance our abilities to discover and extract rare-earth elements.

The study has many implications. A major question in geology is how rare metal deposits form, particularly the high-tech metals that are essential for the green energy revolution. The story from sulfur seems to be consistent with our work on other isotopes. For example, one of the world's biggest deposits of the element tantalum (used in electronics and also concentrated in one of the ancient volcanoes in Greenland) has isotopic fingerprints that also hint at crustal recycling.

However, a lack of rare earths does not mean that the components of solar modules are harmless. Thin-film PV technologies, for example, contain potentially critical metals such as tellurium, cadmium, indium and silver.

"Lanthanides are used in a variety of current technologies, including the screens and electronics of smartphones, batteries of electric cars, satellites, and lasers," said Joseph Cotruvo, Jr., assistant professor and Louis Martarano Career Development Professor of Chemistry at Penn State and senior author of the study. "These elements are called rare earths, and they include chemical elements of atomic weight 57 to 71 on the periodic table. Rare earths are challenging and expensive to extract from the environment or from industrial samples, like waste water from mines or coal waste products. We developed a protein-based sensor that can detect tiny amounts of lanthanides in a sample, letting us know if it's worth investing resources to extract these important metals."

To address the challenge of leading our Nation to secure national independence from REE offshore reliance, the Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Fossil Energy (FE) and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in 2014, performed an initial assessment under its Feasibility of Recovering Rare Earth Elements program, to assess the potential recovery of REEs from coal and coal by-products which included run-of-mine coal, coal refuse (mineral matter that is removed from coal prior to shipment), clay/sandstone over/under-burden materials, ash (coal combustion residuals), and aqueous effluents such as acid mine drainage (AMD), and associated solids and precipitates resulting from AMD treatment. After reporting its findings in the DOE 2015 Report to Congress [3], the Department initiated a multi-year research, development and demonstration (RD&D) effort to demonstrate both the technical feasibility and economic viability of extracting, separating and recovering REEs from these domestic coal-based resource materials. Basic and applied science research projects were conducted at national laboratories, small business organizations and at numerous universities which led in 2016 to the design, construction and operation of bench- and small pilot-scale facilities, and in 2018 to the production of small quantities (e.g., 100 gm/day) of 90% (900,000 ppm) high purity, mixed rare earth oxides (MREOs) using conventional physical beneficiation and chemical (hydrometallurgical) separation processes. Currently, state-of-the-art, conventional separation, process system concepts are being assessed for near-future production of 1-3 tonnes/day of high purity, mixed rare earth oxides (MREOs) from coal-based resources in engineering prototype facilities.

The goals of the DOE-NETL 2014-2020 program were to validate both the technical as well as economic feasibility of recovering REEs and CMs from coal-based resources. In 2019-2020, the program was accelerated to design, construct and operate a domestic engineering-scale prototype facility in an environmentally benign manner, producing in the near-term 1-3 tonnes/day of mixed rare earth oxides or salts (MREOs/MRESs) from coal-based resources at purities of a minimum of 75% [13].

Notably, approximately 40% of mined rare earth production is reduced to metals and alloys, including most of neodymium (Nd), samarium (Sm), and dysprosium (Dy), for applications such as neodymium metal for Nd-Fe-B permanent magnets, samarium metal for Sm-Co permanent magnets, lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), and neodymium (Nd) for rechargeable battery electrodes [24].

Recent U.S. demand for REEs is approximately 13,000 tonnes/year (annual consumption varies) [25]. The estimated distribution in 2019 of rare earths (as oxides) based on end use was 75% catalysts, 5% metallurgical applications and alloys, 5% ceramic and glass, 5% polishing, and 10% other [26]. In 2010 and 2012, the Department of Defense (DoD) indicated that military consumption accounted for less than 5% of domestic REE consumption (approximately 800 tonnes/yr) that was associated with national security needs [27-28].

China has been a major source of rare earth metals used in high-tech products, from smartphones to wind turbines. As cleanup of these mining sites begins, experts argue that global companies that have benefited from access to these metals should help foot the bill.

Higher up, where it is more difficult to replant and where erosion has taken its toll, nearly every knoll and mountaintop is scarred from mining activity. Black rubber hoses curl in the sun. PVC pipes, their ragged edges protruding from the red clay, mark where small crews of miners injected tons of ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, and other chemicals into the earth to separate valuable rare earth metals from the surrounding soil. 041b061a72


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