Special Issue "Critical Metals in Hydrothermal Ores: Resources, Recovery, and Challenges"

A special issue of Minerals (ISSN 2075-163X). This special issue belongs to the section "Mineral Deposits".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 October 2020).

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A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Lingli Zhou
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
iCRAG (Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences), School of Earth Sciences, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Interests: critical metals; geochemistry; analytical mineralogy
Prof. Dr. Hongrui Fan
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
Interests: rare earth deposits; gold deposits; hydrothermal fluids
Dr. Thomas Ulrich
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Geosciences, Aarhus University, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark
Interests: critical metal deposits; analytical mineralogy; mineral geochemistry

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

‘Critical’ or ’strategic’ metals are essential for the development of society and technologies; however, they are vulnerable to imbalances between supply and demand. An advanced understanding of the mineralogy and distribution of critical metals in hydrothermal ores is crucial for the exploitation of ores in which these elements are present at low concentrations, or are to be produced as a by-product from mining operations principally targeting other, more abundant commodities. Contributions focused on geochemistry, mineralogy, metallurgy, genesis and the exploration of critical metals in hydrothermal systems are encouraged for this Special Issue. Topics will encompass the new and novel understanding of critical metals in hydrothermal ores from a range of systems. These systems include, but are not limited to, VMS and marine hydrothermal systems, IOCG and IOA deposits, Pb-Zn deposits and other basin-hosted mineralisation and polymetallic deposits. The areas of interest include: traditional and non-traditional analytical approaches advancing critical metal characterization; the genesis of critical metals, geochemical behaviours of critical metals in simple and complex multi-sulphide systems, or where the critical metals are potentially also present in oxides, silicates or other co-existing minerals; techniques for extracting critical metals from hydrothermal ores; metal criticality assessment; challenges with respect to the responsible sourcing of critical metals from hydrothermal ores.

Dr. Lingli Zhou
Prof. Dr. Hongrui Fan
Dr. Thomas Ulrich
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • critical metals
  • hydrothermal process
  • geochemistry
  • mineralogy
  • mineral processing
  • metal criticality assessment
  • energy, resource and society

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Editorial

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Editorial
Editorial for Special Issue “Critical Metals in Hydrothermal Ores: Resources, Recovery, and Challenges”
Minerals 2021, 11(3), 299; https://doi.org/10.3390/min11030299 - 13 Mar 2021
Viewed by 508
Abstract
The consumption of resources has rapidly increased over the last few decades, driven by the continuous growth of the global population and technological innovations [...] Full article

Research

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Article
The Influence of Hydrothermal Fluids on the REY-Rich Deep-Sea Sediments in the Yupanqui Basin, Eastern South Pacific Ocean: Constraints from Bulk Sediment Geochemistry and Mineralogical Characteristics
Minerals 2020, 10(12), 1141; https://doi.org/10.3390/min10121141 - 19 Dec 2020
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 1081
Abstract
Rare earth elements (REEs) and yttrium (Y), together known as REY, are extremely enriched in deep-sea pelagic sediments, attracting much attention as a promising new REY resource. To understand the influence of hydrothermal processes on the enrichment of REY in deep-sea sediments from [...] Read more.
Rare earth elements (REEs) and yttrium (Y), together known as REY, are extremely enriched in deep-sea pelagic sediments, attracting much attention as a promising new REY resource. To understand the influence of hydrothermal processes on the enrichment of REY in deep-sea sediments from the eastern South Pacific Ocean, we conducted detailed lithological, bulk sediment geochemical, and in situ mineral geochemical analyses on gravity core sample S021GC17 from the Yupanqui Basin of eastern South Pacific. The REY-rich muds of S021GC17 are dark-brown to black zeolitic clays with REY contents (ΣREY) ranging from 1057 to 1882 ppm (average 1329 ppm). The REY-rich muds display heavy rare earth elements (HREE) enriched patterns, with obvious depletions in Ce, and positive anomalies of Eu in Post-Archean Australian Shale (PAAS)-normalized REE diagrams. In contrast, the muds of S021GC17 show light rare earth elements (LREE) enriched patterns and positive anomalies of Ce and Eu in the seawater-normalized REE diagrams. Total REY abundances in the core show positive correlations with CaO, P2O5, Fe2O3, and MnO concentrations. In situ analyses of trace element contents by laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) demonstrate that bioapatite fossils contain high REY concentrations (998 to 22,497 ppm, average 9123 ppm), indicating that they are the primary carriers of REY. The in situ Nd isotope values of bioapatites are higher than the average values of seawater in Pacific Ocean. Fe–Mn micronodules are divided into hydrogenetic and diagenetic types, which have average REY concentrations of 1586 and 567 ppm, respectively. The high contents of Fe-Mn-Ba-Co-Mo, the positive correlations between ΣREY and Fe-Mn, the ratios of Fe/Ti and Al/(Al + Fe + Mn), and the LREE-enriched patterns in the REY-rich muds, combined with high Nd isotope values shown by bioapatite fossils, strongly indicate that the hydrothermal fluids have played an important role in the formation of the REY-rich sediments in the eastern South Pacific Ocean. Full article
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Article
Garnet Geochemistry of Reduced Skarn System: Implications for Fluid Evolution and Skarn Formation of the Zhuxiling W (Mo) Deposit, China
Minerals 2020, 10(11), 1024; https://doi.org/10.3390/min10111024 - 17 Nov 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 849
Abstract
A newly discovered tungsten ore district containing more than 300,000 tons of WO3 in southern Anhui Province has attracted great attention. The Zhuxiling W (Mo) deposit in the district is dominated by skarn tungsten mineralization. This paper conducted in suit EPMA and [...] Read more.
A newly discovered tungsten ore district containing more than 300,000 tons of WO3 in southern Anhui Province has attracted great attention. The Zhuxiling W (Mo) deposit in the district is dominated by skarn tungsten mineralization. This paper conducted in suit EPMA and LA-ICPMS spot and mapping analysis of the skarn mineral garnet to reveal the evolution of fluids, metasomatic dynamics, and formation conditions of skarn. Two generations of garnet have been identified for Zhuxiling W (Mo) skarn: 1) Gt-I generation garnet is isotropic, Al-rich grossular without zoning. As a further subdivision, Gt-IB garnet (Adr19-46Grs49-77 (Sps+Pyr+Alm)4-5) contains significantly high content of Ti and Mn compared with Gt-IA garnet (Adr3-42Grs53-96 (Sps+Pyr+Alm)1-5). 2) Gt-II generation garnet is anisotropic, Fe-rich andradite with oscillatory zoning. Gt-II garnet displays compositional changes with a decrease of Fe and an increase of Mn from proximal skarn (Gt-IIA) to distal skarn (Gt-IIB) with the presence of subcalcic garnet for Gt-IIB type (Sps+Pyr+Alm = 56–68). The presence of pyrrhotite associated with subcalcic garnet indicates a relatively reduced skarn system. Gt-I grossular is overall enriched in Cr, Zr, Y, Nb, and Ta compared with the Gt-II andradite, and both W and Sn strongly favor Fe-rich garnet compared with Al-rich garnet. Gt-IA grossular garnet presents a REE trend with an upward-facing parabola peaking at Pr and Nd in contrast to low and flat HREE, and Gt-IB grossular garnet has a distinct REE pattern with enriched HREE. Gt-IIA andradite garnet displays a right-dipping REE pattern (enriched LREE and depleted HREE) with a prominent positive Eu anomaly (Eu/Eu* = 3.6–15.3). In contrast, Gt-IIB andradite garnet shows depleted LREE and enriched HREE with a weak positive Eu anomaly (Eu/Eu* = 0–6.0). The incorporation and fractionation of REE in garnet are collectively controlled by crystal chemistry and extrinsic factors, such as P–T–X conditions of fluids, fluid/rock ratios, and mineral growth kinetics. Major and trace elements of two generations of garnet combined with optical and textural characteristics suggest that Gt-I Al-rich grossular garnets grow slowly through diffusive metasomatism under a closed system, whereas Gt-II Fe-rich andradite represent rapid growth garnet formed by the infiltration metasomatism of magmatic fluids in an open system. The Mn-rich garnet implies active fluid–rock interaction with Mn-rich dolomitic limestone of the Lantian Group in the district. Full article
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Article
Petrogenetic Constraints of Early Cenozoic Mafic Rocks in the Southwest Songliao Basin, NE China: Implications for the Genesis of Sandstone-Hosted Qianjiadian Uranium Deposits
Minerals 2020, 10(11), 1014; https://doi.org/10.3390/min10111014 - 14 Nov 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 897
Abstract
The tectonic inversion of the Songliao Basin during the Cenozoic may have played an important role in controlling the development of sandstone-type uranium deposits. The widely distributed mafic intrusions in the host sandstones of the Qianjiadian U ore deposits provided new insights to [...] Read more.
The tectonic inversion of the Songliao Basin during the Cenozoic may have played an important role in controlling the development of sandstone-type uranium deposits. The widely distributed mafic intrusions in the host sandstones of the Qianjiadian U ore deposits provided new insights to constrain the regional tectonic evolution and the genesis of the U mineralization. In this study, zircon U-Pb dating, whole-rock geochemistry, Sr-Nd-Pb isotope analysis, and mineral chemical compositions were presented for the mafic rocks from the Qianjiadian area. The mafic rocks display low SiO2 (44.91–52.05 wt.%), high TFe2O3 contents (9.97–16.46 wt.%), variable MgO (4.59–15.87 wt.%), and moderate K2O + Na2O (3.19–6.52 wt.%), and can be subdivided into AB group (including basanites and alkali olivine basaltic rocks) and TB group (mainly tholeiitic basaltic rocks). They are characterized by homogenous isotopic compositions (εNd (t) = 3.47–5.89 and 87Sr/86Sr = 0.7032–0.7042) and relatively high radiogenic 206Pb/204Pb (18.13–18.34) and Nb/U ratios (23.0–45.6), similar to the nearby Shuangliao basalts, suggesting a common asthenospheric origin enriched with slab-derived components prior to melting. Zircon U-Pb and previous Ar-Ar dating show that the AB group formed earlier (51–47 Ma) than the TB group (42–40 Ma). Compared to the TB group, the AB group has higher TiO2, Na2O, K2O, P2O5, Ce, and HREE contents and Ta/Yb and Sr/Yb ratios, which may have resulted from variable depth of partial melting in association with lithospheric thinning. Combined with previous research, the Songliao Basin experienced: (1) Eocene (~50–40 Ma) lithospheric thinning and crustal extension during which mafic rocks intruded into the host sandstones of the Qianjiadian deposit, (2) a tectonic inversion from extension to tectonic uplift attributed to the subduction of the Pacific Plate occurring at ~40 Ma, and (3) Oligo–Miocene (~40–10 Ma) tectonic uplift, which is temporally associated with U mineralization. Finally, the close spatial relation between mafic intrusions and the U mineralization, dike-related secondary reduction, and secondary oxidation of the mafic rocks in the Qianjiadian area suggest that Eocene mafic rocks and their alteration halo in the Songliao Basin may have played a role as a reducing barrier for the U mineralization. Full article
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Article
Study of Copper Leaching from Mining Waste in Acidic Media, at Ambient Temperature and Atmospheric Pressure
Minerals 2020, 10(10), 873; https://doi.org/10.3390/min10100873 - 01 Oct 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 771
Abstract
Mining activity produces a series of wastes that must be treated to avoid environmental pollution. In addition, some of these mining wastes still contain metallic elements that are interesting for their extraction with new less expensive techniques and that can work with low [...] Read more.
Mining activity produces a series of wastes that must be treated to avoid environmental pollution. In addition, some of these mining wastes still contain metallic elements that are interesting for their extraction with new less expensive techniques and that can work with low mineral grades, such as hydrometallurgy. This study evaluates the suitability of Copper recovery in mining wastes, coming from waste dump, with a high percentage of metal oxides and granite. This recovery is carried out through leaching in 0.05, 0.10, 0.15 and 0.20 molar Sulphuric Acid solutions, at ambient temperature and atmospheric pressure. The exposure of the waste to the solution was made for 96 h, taking measurements of the leaching and evaluating the increase in Copper concentration every 24 h. The results reflected a good Copper recovery rate with concentrations up to 1.9 g/L. The best results were obtained for the 0.20 molar Sulphuric Acid solutions, producing a stability in the Copper concentration after 72 h. Other elements in smaller proportion as the Zinc were also recovered. Therefore, a process of recovery of Copper was obtained with a robust, versatile and economic technique in mining residues that currently represent an environmental pollution. Full article
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Article
The Effect of Co-Crystallising Sulphides and Precipitation Mechanisms on Sphalerite Geochemistry: A Case Study from the Hilton Zn-Pb (Ag) Deposit, Australia
Minerals 2020, 10(9), 797; https://doi.org/10.3390/min10090797 - 09 Sep 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1251
Abstract
High-tech metals including Ge, Ga and In are often sourced as by-products from a range of ore minerals, including sphalerite from Zn-Pb deposits. The Hilton Zn-Pb (Ag) deposit in the Mount Isa Inlier, Queensland, contains six textural varieties of sphalerite that have formed [...] Read more.
High-tech metals including Ge, Ga and In are often sourced as by-products from a range of ore minerals, including sphalerite from Zn-Pb deposits. The Hilton Zn-Pb (Ag) deposit in the Mount Isa Inlier, Queensland, contains six textural varieties of sphalerite that have formed through a diverse range of processes with variable co-crystallising sulphides. This textural complexity provides a unique opportunity to examine the effects of co-crystallising sulphides and chemical remobilisation on the trace element geochemistry of sphalerite. Early sphalerite (sph-1) is stratabound and coeval with pyrrhotite, pyrite and galena. Disseminated sphalerite (sph-2) occurs as isolated fine-grained laths rarely associated with co-crystallising sulphides and represents an alteration selvage accompanying the precipitation of early stratabound sphalerite (sph-1). Sphalerite (sph-3) occurs in early ferroan-dolomite veins and formed from the chemical remobilisation of stratabound sphalerite (sph-1) during brittle fracturing and interstitial fluid flow. This generation of veins terminate at the interface, and occurs within clasts of the paragenetically later sphalerite-dominated breccias (sph-4). Regions of high-grade Cu (>2%) mineralisation contain a late generation of sphalerite (sph-5), which formed from the recrystallisation of breccia-type sphalerite (sph-4) during the infiltration of a paragenetically late Cu- and Pb-rich fluid. Late ferroan-dolomite veins crosscut all previous stages of mineralisation and also contain chemically remobilised sphalerite (sph-6). Major and trace elements including Fe, Co, In, Sn, Sb, Ag and Tl are depleted in sphalerite associated with abundant co-crystallised neighbouring sulphides (e.g., pyrite, pyrrhotite, galena and chalcopyrite) relative to sphalerite associated with minor to no co-crystallising sulphides. This depletion is attributed to the incorporation of the trace elements into the competing sulphide minerals. Chemically remobilised sphalerite is enriched in Zn, Cd, Ge, Ga and Sn, and depleted in Fe, Tl, Co, Bi and occasionally Ag, Sb and Mn relative to the primary minerals. This is attributed to the higher mobility of Zn, Ge, Ga and Sn relative to Fe and Co during the chemical remobilisation process, coupled with the effect of co-crystallising with galena and ferroan-dolomite. Results from this study indicate that the consideration of co-crystallising sulphides and post-depositional processes are important in understanding the trace element composition of sphalerite on both a microscopic and deposit-scale, and has implications for a range of Zn-Pb deposits worldwide. Full article
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Article
pXRF Measurements on Soil Samples for the Exploration of an Antimony Deposit: Example from the Vendean Antimony District (France)
Minerals 2020, 10(8), 724; https://doi.org/10.3390/min10080724 - 18 Aug 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 945
Abstract
Mineral exploration is increasingly challenging in inhabited areas. To evaluate the potential of soil analysis by pXRF (portable X-ray fluorescence) as a low-footprint exploration technique, we revisited a historic Sb district in an agricultural area and performed shallow-soil sampling (Ah and B horizons) [...] Read more.
Mineral exploration is increasingly challenging in inhabited areas. To evaluate the potential of soil analysis by pXRF (portable X-ray fluorescence) as a low-footprint exploration technique, we revisited a historic Sb district in an agricultural area and performed shallow-soil sampling (Ah and B horizons) along profiles across known veins to capture the endogenic geochemical anomaly signals. Despite an expected bias between pXRF measurements and laboratory analyses, the former effectively located the Sb veins, especially when using their multi-element capabilities. Composition data processing (CoDa) and horizon-selective sampling significantly improved the method’s efficiency. On-site measurements allow dynamic sampling and mapping, helping with faster, cost-effective sample selection for further laboratory investigations. Based on this case study, where similar geochemical patterns were obtained for both horizons, application of an on-site approach to a humic horizon can increase survey efficiency and decrease impacts. Full article
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Article
Fluid Evolution, H-O Isotope and Re-Os Age of Molybdenite from the Baiyinhan Tungsten Deposit in the Eastern Central Asian Orogenic Belt, NE China, and Its Geological Significance
Minerals 2020, 10(8), 664; https://doi.org/10.3390/min10080664 - 26 Jul 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 850
Abstract
The quartz-vein-type Baiyinhan tungsten deposit is located at the eastern part of the Central Asian Orogenic Belt, NE China. Analyses of fluid inclusions, H-O isotope of quartz and Re-Os isotope of molybdenite were carried out. Three stages of mineralization were identified: The early [...] Read more.
The quartz-vein-type Baiyinhan tungsten deposit is located at the eastern part of the Central Asian Orogenic Belt, NE China. Analyses of fluid inclusions, H-O isotope of quartz and Re-Os isotope of molybdenite were carried out. Three stages of mineralization were identified: The early quartz + wolframite + bismuth stage, the middle quartz + molybdenite stage and the late calcite + fluorite stage. Quartz veins formed in the three stages were selected for the fluid inclusion analysis. The petrographic observation and fluid inclusion microthermometry results revealed three types of fluid inclusions: CO2-H2O (C-type), liquid-rich (L-type) and vapor-rich (V-type). The homogenization temperatures of C-type, V-type and L-type inclusions were 233–374 °C, 210–312 °C, and 196–311 °C, respectively. The salinity of the three types of inclusions was identical, varying in the range of 5–12 wt%. The H-O isotope analyses results showed that quartz had δ18OH2O and δDSMOW compositions of −2.6‰ to 4.3‰ and −97‰ to −82‰, respectively, indicating that the ore-forming fluids were mainly derived from magmatic water with a minor contribution of meteoric water. The addition of meteoric water reduces the temperature and salinity of the ore-forming fluids, which leads to a decrease of the solubility of tungsten and molybdenum in the fluids and eventually the precipitation of minerals. Re-Os isotopic analysis of five molybdenite samples yielded an isochron age of 139.6 ± 7.6 Ma (2σ) with an initial 187Os of −0.05 ± 0.57 (MSWD = 3.5). Rhenium concentrations of the molybdenite samples were between 3.1 ug/g and 8.5 ug/g. The results suggest that the metals of the Baiyinhan deposit have a crust origin, and the mineralization is one episode of the Early Cretaceous tungsten mineralization epoch which occurred at the eastern part of the Central Asian Orogenic Belt. Full article
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Article
Metal-Selective Processing from the Los Sulfatos Porphyry-Type Deposit in Chile: Co, Au, and Re Recovery Workflows Based on Advanced Geochemical Characterization
Minerals 2020, 10(6), 531; https://doi.org/10.3390/min10060531 - 11 Jun 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1051
Abstract
Sulfides extracted from porphyry-type deposits can contain a number of metals critical for the global energy transition, e.g., Co and precious metals such as Au and Re. These metals are currently determined on composite mineral samples, which commonly results in their dilution. Thus, [...] Read more.
Sulfides extracted from porphyry-type deposits can contain a number of metals critical for the global energy transition, e.g., Co and precious metals such as Au and Re. These metals are currently determined on composite mineral samples, which commonly results in their dilution. Thus, it is possible that some metals of interest are overlooked during metallurgical processing and are subsequently lost to tailings. Here, an advanced geochemical characterization is implemented directly on metal-bearing sulfides, determining the grade of each targeted trace metal and recognizing its specific host mineral. Results show that pyrite is a prime host mineral for Co (up to 24,000 ppm) and commonly contains Au (up to 5 ppm), while molybdenite contains high grades of Re (up to 514 ppm) and Au (up to 31 ppm). Both minerals represent around 0.2% of the mineralized samples. The dataset is used to evaluate the possibility of extracting trace metals as by-products during Cu-sulfide processing, by the addition of unit operations to conventional plant designs. A remarkable advantage of the proposed workflows is that costs of mining, crushing, and grinding stages are accounted for in the copper production investments. The proposed geochemical characterization can be applied to other porphyry-type operations to improve the metallic benefits from a single deposit. Full article
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Article
Thermodynamic Constraints on REE Mineral Paragenesis in the Bayan Obo REE-Nb-Fe Deposit, China
Minerals 2020, 10(6), 495; https://doi.org/10.3390/min10060495 - 29 May 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 968
Abstract
Hydrothermal processes have played a significant role in rare earth element (REE) precipitation in the Bayan Obo REE-Nb-Fe deposit. The poor preservation of primary fluid inclusions and superposition or modification by multiphase hydrothermal activities have made identification of physico-chemical conditions of ore-forming fluids [...] Read more.
Hydrothermal processes have played a significant role in rare earth element (REE) precipitation in the Bayan Obo REE-Nb-Fe deposit. The poor preservation of primary fluid inclusions and superposition or modification by multiphase hydrothermal activities have made identification of physico-chemical conditions of ore-forming fluids extremely difficult. Fortunately, with more and more reliable thermodynamic properties of aqueous REE species and REE minerals reported in recent years, a series of thermodynamic calculations are conducted in this study to provide constraints on REE precipitation in hydrothermal solutions, and provide an explanation of typical paragenesis of REE and gangue minerals at Bayan Obo. During the competition between fluocerite and monazite for LREE in the modelled solution (0.1 M HCl, 0.1 M HF and 0.1 M trichloride of light rare earth elements (LREE) from La to Sm), all LREE would eventually be hosted by monazite at a temperature over 300 °C, with continuous introduction of H3PO4. Additionally, monazite of heavier LREE would precipitate earlier, indicating that the Ce- and La-enriched monazite at Bayan Obo was crystallized from Ce and La pre-enriched hydrothermal fluids. The fractionation among LREE occurred before the ore-forming fluids infiltrating ore-hosting dolomite. When CO2 (aq) was introduced to the aqueous system (model 1), bastnaesite would eventually and completely replace monazite-(Ce). Cooling of hot hydrothermal fluids (>400 °C) would significantly promote this replacement, with only about one third the cost of CO2 for the entire replacement when temperature dropped from 430 °C to 400 °C. Sole dolomite addition (model 2) would make bastnaesite replace monazite and then be replaced by parisite. The monazite-(Ce) replaced by associated bastnaesite and apatite is an indicator of very hot hydrothermal fluids (>400 °C) and specific dolomite/fluid ratios (e.g., initial dolomite at 1 kbar: 0.049–0.068 M and 0.083–0.105 M at 400 °C and 430 °C). In hot solution (>430 °C) that continuously interacts with dolomite, apatite precipitates predating the bastnaesite, but it behaves oppositely at <400 °C. The former paragenesis is in accord with petrography observed in this study. Some mineral pairs, such as monazite-(Ce)-fluorite and monazite-(Ce)-parisite would never co-precipitate at any calculated temperature or pressure. Therefore, their association implies multiphase hydrothermal activities. Pressure variation would have rather limited influence on the paragenesis of REE minerals. However, temperature and fluid composition variation (e.g., CO2 (aq), dolomite, H3PO4) would cause significantly different associations between REE and gangue minerals. Full article
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Review

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Review
Carbonatite-Related REE Deposits: An Overview
Minerals 2020, 10(11), 965; https://doi.org/10.3390/min10110965 - 28 Oct 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2034
Abstract
The rare earth elements (REEs) have unique and diverse properties that make them function as an “industrial vitamin” and thus, many countries consider them as strategically important resources. China, responsible for more than 60% of the world’s REE production, is one of the [...] Read more.
The rare earth elements (REEs) have unique and diverse properties that make them function as an “industrial vitamin” and thus, many countries consider them as strategically important resources. China, responsible for more than 60% of the world’s REE production, is one of the REE-rich countries in the world. Most REE (especially light rare earth elements (LREE)) deposits are closely related to carbonatite in China. Such a type of deposit may also contain appreciable amounts of industrially critical metals, such as Nb, Th and Sc. According to the genesis, the carbonatite-related REE deposits can be divided into three types: primary magmatic type, hydrothermal type and carbonatite weathering-crust type. This paper provides an overview of the carbonatite-related endogenetic REE deposits, i.e., primary magmatic type and hydrothermal type. The carbonatite-related endogenetic REE deposits are mainly distributed in continental margin depression or rift belts, e.g., Bayan Obo REE-Nb-Fe deposit, and orogenic belts on the margin of craton such as the Miaoya Nb-REE deposit. The genesis of carbonatite-related endogenetic REE deposits is still debated. It is generally believed that the carbonatite magma is originated from the low-degree partial melting of the mantle. During the evolution process, the carbonatite rocks or dykes rich in REE were formed through the immiscibility of carbonate-silicate magma and fractional crystallization of carbonate minerals from carbonatite magma. The ore-forming elements are mainly sourced from primitive mantle, with possible contribution of crustal materials that carry a large amount of REE. In the magmatic-hydrothermal system, REEs migrate in the form of complexes, and precipitate corresponding to changes of temperature, pressure, pH and composition of the fluids. A simple magmatic evolution process cannot ensure massive enrichment of REE to economic values. Fractional crystallization of carbonate minerals and immiscibility of melts and hydrothermal fluids in the hydrothermal evolution stage play an important role in upgrading the REE mineralization. Future work of experimental petrology will be fundamental to understand the partitioning behaviors of REE in magmatic-hydrothermal system through simulation of the metallogenic geological environment. Applying “comparative metallogeny” methods to investigate both REE fertile and barren carbonatites will enhance the understanding of factors controlling the fertility. Full article
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