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Resources 2014, 3(4), 614-635; doi:10.3390/resources3040614

Rare Earth Elements: Overview of Mining, Mineralogy, Uses, Sustainability and Environmental Impact

1,†,* , 2,†
,
3,†
and
1,†
1
Mineral Resources Flagship, CSIRO, Bag 312 Clayton South VIC 3168, Australia
2
Manufacturing Flagship, CSIRO, Bag 312 Clayton South VIC 3168, Australia
3
Energy Flagship, CSIRO, Bag 312 Clayton South VIC 3168, Australia
These authors contributed equally to this work.
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 30 June 2014 / Revised: 17 October 2014 / Accepted: 20 October 2014 / Published: 29 October 2014
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Abstract

Rare earths are used in the renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines, batteries, catalysts and electric cars. Current mining, processing and sustainability aspects have been described in this paper. Rare earth availability is undergoing a temporary decline due mainly to quotas being imposed by the Chinese government on export and action taken against illegal mining operations. The reduction in availability coupled with increasing demand has led to increased prices for rare earths. Although the prices have come down recently, this situation is likely to be volatile until material becomes available from new sources or formerly closed mines are reopened. Although the number of identified deposits in the world is close to a thousand, there are only a handful of actual operating mines. Prominent currently operating mines are Bayan Obo in China, Mountain Pass in the US and recently opened Mount Weld in Australia. The major contributor to the total greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of rare earth processing is hydrochloric acid (ca. 38%), followed by steam use (32%) and electricity (12%). Life cycle based water and energy consumption is significantly higher compared with other metals. View Full-Text
Keywords: rare earth; mining, mineralogy, recycling, life cycle assessment rare earth; mining, mineralogy, recycling, life cycle assessment
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Haque, N.; Hughes, A.; Lim, S.; Vernon, C. Rare Earth Elements: Overview of Mining, Mineralogy, Uses, Sustainability and Environmental Impact. Resources 2014, 3, 614-635.

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