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Social and Environmental Impact of the Rare Earth Industries


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The use of rare earth elements in various technologies continues to grow despite some alternatives being found for particular uses. Given a history of ecological concerns about pollution from rare earth mines, particularly in China, there are growing social and environmental concerns about the growth of the mining and mineral processing in this sector. This is best exemplified by the recent social and environmental conflict surrounding the development of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Kuantan, Malaysia which led to international activism and claims of environmental and social injustice. This paper analyses the structure of environmental and social conflicts surrounding rare earth minerals and opportunities for improving the social and environmental performance of the sector. Many of these elements are used for green technologies. Opportunities exist that offer a more circular supply chain following industrial ecological principles through which reuse and recycling of the materials can provide a means of mitigating social and environmental conflicts in this sector. In addition, public engagement processes that recognize community concerns about radiation, and transparent scientifically predicated decision-making through an appropriate governance structure within regulatory organizations are also presented.
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Resources 2014, 3, 123-134; doi:10.3390/resources3010123
ISSN 2079-9276
Social and Environmental Impact of the Rare Earth Industries
Saleem H. Ali
Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of
Queensland, St Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia; E-Mail:; Tel.: +61-7-3346-4043;
Fax: +61-7-3346-4045
Received: 18 December 2013; in revised form: 29 January 2014 / Accepted: 6 February 2014 /
Published: 13 February 2014
Abstract: The use of rare earth elements in various technologies continues to grow despite
some alternatives being found for particular uses. Given a history of ecological concerns
about pollution from rare earth mines, particularly in China, there are growing social and
environmental concerns about the growth of the mining and mineral processing in this
sector. This is best exemplified by the recent social and environmental conflict surrounding
the development of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Kuantan, Malaysia
which led to international activism and claims of environmental and social injustice. This
paper analyses the structure of environmental and social conflicts surrounding rare earth
minerals and opportunities for improving the social and environmental performance of the
sector. Many of these elements are used for green technologies. Opportunities exist that
offer a more circular supply chain following industrial ecological principles through which
reuse and recycling of the materials can provide a means of mitigating social and
environmental conflicts in this sector. In addition, public engagement processes that
recognize community concerns about radiation, and transparent scientifically predicated
decision-making through an appropriate governance structure within regulatory organizations
are also presented.
Keywords: rare earths; recycling; nuclear; environmental conflict; Lynas; Malaysia;
Kuantan; Korea; green energy; industrial ecology
1. Introduction
The rare earths (RE) sector has come under intense public scrutiny in recent years because of a
convergence of environmental narratives around natural resource extraction. First, there has been a
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growth of social movements around mining extraction more broadly which are predicated in resource
nationalism as well as environmental activism. Second, there is a growing concern about any materials
which have even a remote connection to radioactive pollution. Finally, a legacy of past projects has
also played a role in further enhancing distrust between the community and the site developers of
such projects.
Australian environmentalism around the rare earth sector has been amplified by these
aforementioned factors and been linked particularly to the establishment of the Mount Weld mine, the
concentrate of which is being shipped to Malaysia. There has been a pervasive movement in Malaysia
against this project, which is partly a manifestation of distrust emanating from political tensions within
the country between various ethnic groups and the transition towards pluralistic democracy. However,
the case also highlights how activism around minerals has strong global linkages and claims of
environmental injustice in shipping concentrate for processing to a developing country can be raised.
This case highlights the need for a circular economy approach to material flows that would allow for
trade of positive goods but minimize the need for export of environmentally harmful externalities.
Recycling as a feature of such a circular economy deserves greater attention within the rare earths
sector as well.
The Malaysian activism against this sector can be traced back to The Asian Rare Earths site which
was operated by Mitsubishi at Bukit Merah 20 years ago. Leakage of radioactive materials from this
site sensitized the country to rare earth environmental concerns which were exacerbated by
mismanagement of various aspects of community relations at the site [1]. Although the claims of
environmental health damage were initially upheld by the courts, and then eventually refuted by
Malaysia’s highest court, the absence of a community engagement process led to immense public
distrust of environmental regulation and enforcement.
Even though current rare earth mining and processing technologies are very different from the case
in Bukit Merah, which involved old tailings with monazite from tin mining operations, there is a
tendency to conflate the past and the present given the negative history of minimal engagement.
2. Rare Earths Mines
The mining process for RE varies depending on the kind of ore being processed and the range of
accompanying elements which will also be extracted. For example, the world’s largest and best known
RE mine in China, Bayan Obo, was originally discovered as an iron ore mine in 1927 and is also one
of the world’s largest fluorite extraction sites [2]. The large footprint of mines such as Bayan Obo can
clearly have major ecological impact and there is little doubt that environmental concerns have been
real and present in this context and been documented. The reduced production by China on
environmental grounds during the past three years triggered reduced export quotas which have been
questioned by the United States, Japan and Europe deserves further research but there is little doubt
that the scale of the operations in Bayan Obo needed environmental remediation.
An independent research article by the French Newspaper Le Monde which was subsequently
published in The Guardian in 2012 documented through interviews with farmers and local residents of
the town of Baotou that the scale of the mining had irrevocably changed the lifestyles of residents. In
the village of Xinguang Sancun, farmers have abandoned fields and stopped planting anything but
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wheat and corn and the population has declined from 2000 to 300 within the past 10 years. A study by
the municipal environmental protection agency showed that rare earth minerals were the source of
their problems with increased pollution compounded with dozens of new factories and other industrial
services [3]. The Chinese government has committed 4 billion Yuan ($600 million) to clean up the
damage caused by the RE sector in this region. In 2012, Su Bo, the vice minister for industry and
information technology noted publicly that the Chinese authorities were absolutely not willing to
sacrifice the environment in order to develop the RE industry [4].
The Mountain Pass RE mine in California also faced environmental compliance cost challenges
which led to its closure during the 1990s, allowing for the Chinese industry to flourish soon thereafter.
However, the environmental issues at Mountain Pass involved leakage of a particular piping system
used to carry wastewater to an evaporation system. A federal investigation found 60 spillssome
unreportedoccurred between 1984 and 1998, when the pipeline was shut down. In all, about 600,000
gallons of wastewater flowed onto the desert floor. The mine’s operator at the time was sued by the
San Bernardino County district attorney and paid more than $1.4 million in fines and settlements.
However, since then the current management of the company has changed the wastewater system
completely and through new technologies tailings will be managed much closer to the mine site with a
paste-tailings system to avoid piping of wastewater. A field visit by the author to the surrounding areas
in January 2013 including interviews with various environmental regulators revealed general
satisfaction with the processes being proposed for the site. There is thus far minimal environmental
opposition to this site’s reopening.
Additional rare earth mining comes from ion-adsorbed clay deposits, which are particularly
prevalent in Southern China and have a considerable environmental footprint in the province of
Jiangxi. In 2010 there were 88 rare earth mineral producers in the province’s capital Ganzhou but
according to a USGS study 90 percent of them ceased their operations because of weak prices. Jiangxi
Province had a reserve of 2.3 Mt of the ion-adsorption RE [5]. An interesting development in this
sector involves the Aluminum Corporation of China (Chinalco, Beijing, China) signing an agreement
with the government of Jiangxi Province to allow the company to consolidate the local nonferrous
metals producers to take shares of Jiangxi Rare Earth and Rare Metals Tungsten Group Co. Ltd.
Involvement of a much larger company with multinational reach will likely provide greater
environmental and social scrutiny of the ion-adsorbed clays sector of RE as well.
The Mount Weld mine in Western Australia, which is the source of the concentrate for the LAMP
facility in Malaysia, is clearly of a lower impact than Bayan Obo, Mountain Pass and indeed adsorbed
clay deposits, given the small footprint of the mine itself and the remoteness of the location. The kind
of ore being mined (rare earth phosphates: carbonatite, monazite) may have higher thorium content
than bastnasite ore from the Chinese or American mines but still far below radiation concerns that may
emanate from high grade uranium operations. Communicating the ecological differences between the
various types of mine sites is essential to ensuring that the social perception of the respective mines is
not conflated. However, the connection between mining and the processing steps and the generation of
various kinds of waste, including mildly radioactive thorium needs to be addressed.
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3. Processing
The processing of RE elements is a complex process and often involves multiple facilities. As with
other metals, a combination of solvent extraction and flotation processes, coupled with some
electrolytic processes may be used. Minimal research has been done on the environmental accounting
of rare earth processing in terms of recovery. Hardly any empirical data is available on energy usage of
the processing. Figure 1 provides one empirical analysis conducted by a postgraduate student at
University College London of a mine in China [6].
Figure 1. Environmental Accounting Analysis of the Maoniuping Mine China delineating
how the ore can be disaggregated into various useful and waste materials [6].
REE = Rare Earth Elements.
The amount of gangue (i.e., the waste material mixed with the wanted material in an ore deposit)
produced and much of the concern around pollution emanates from public perception of this waste
material. There is contention as to the classification of this material as “waste” since it has been argued
by the industry that given the thorium content, the material could be used at a later date for extracting
usable products. The categorization of this material as a non-waste has regulatory compliance
implications since waste management requires an immediate disposal plan whereas potentially useful
material can be stored with more flexible compliance mechanisms.
625kg 63%
Al 163k g
Fe 110k g
Rare earth
minera ls
43.4kg 4%
Mn 38.9kg
Pb 19.7kg
Al 163k g
Fe 110k g
Pb 19.7kg
Ra re earth
minera ls
Ra re earth
minera ls
6.5kg 1%
Mineral recovery
Rare earth
conce ntra te
Resources 2014, 3 127
Each ore has a slightly different waste profile and the processing technologies and materials are
proprietary at a detailed level. However, for compliance purposes the basic wastes produced are
generally known. Thus in the case of the LAMP facility in Malaysia, the process will produce some
wastewater and spent chemicals which will go through a wastewater treatment facility before
discharge; gypsum; magnesium-content gypsum and iron phosphor-gypsum (with thorium content).
The final product to be shipped to refiners would be rare earth oxides which would need further
processing before being available for manufacturing.
4. Manufacturing
After initial processing to extract RE, there is a specialized chemical refiners sector that produces
specific metals which can be used by fabricators for products such as magnets and phosphors. Much of
the processing techniques are similar but with a higher levels of extraction precision in smaller units. A
lifecycle diagram of a typical RE operation is provided in Figure 2 which highlights the particular
environmental nodes which could be socially consequential.
Figure 2. Lifecycle analysis boundary for the production of rare earth element products [7].
REO = Rare Earth Oxides *; REOH = Rare Earth Hydroxide.
Note: * The term oxide is a term of convenience in the rare earth sector. By industry convention,
rare-earth production typically is reported in units of rare-earth oxides or equivalent, regardless of
the actual form of product (which can be oxide, carbonate, chlorate, oxalate, or other form).
Stage 1: Mining a nd benefication
Ba stnasite & Monazite
Stage 2: Mineral “crack ing”
Stage 3: REO sep a ration
Sepa ra ted REOs
Stage 4: REO reduction
Production of
chem icals (acids,
Chem icals
Ma terials
Hem a tite (FE)
Niobium ore
Alloy production
Product mfgProduct use
Mixed REOs
Resources 2014, 3 128
5. Recycling
Recycling of RE is still quite limited and was calculated in 2011 to be around 1 per cent of supply.
Binnemans et al. [8] have done an exhaustive review of the various recycling pathways for RE and
their potentials. There is little doubt that recycled RE could reduce the ecological footprint of mining
but the cost of extraction from products in which RE get embedded makes recovery less competitive.
Figure 3 presents the closed-loop prospect for RE products from which the extraction could
be undertaken.
Figure 3. Recycling prospects for RE and opportunities for environmental efficiency [8].
Acronyms: REE= Rare Earth Elements; EAF = Electric Arc Furnaces; REO = Rare
Earth Oxides.
However, the potential for further developing this sector remains uncertain since there is also a
competing strategy by some RE users to seek alternatives to the materials themselves and hence
research and development has been divided between recycling proponents and substitute proponents.
6. Monitoring
Given the complexity of RE supply from mines to markets and the potential for a “cradle to cradle”
circular economy approach, the sector requires a deliberate and detailed monitoring system which
should be adaptive to technological changes. Monitoring protocols for complex industrial processes are
EAFs, Smelters recover
of ba se meta ls, PGMs
Slags/dusts conta ining
Ind ividua l Rare Earth
Meta ls
REEs from primar y
Ma ster alloys
Lam p phosphors
Consu mer goods
containing REEs
End of life p roducts
cont aining REEs
Recyclates conta ining
∑ REE’s in lea cha te
Ind ividua l REOs
Separatio n into
individual REEs
Recover y of REEs
Dismantling &
pretrea tm ent
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often a key means of assuaging social concerns. In particular, the following four areas deserve
prioritization for monitoring and enforcement.
6.1. Radiation
Rare earth elements themselves have some radioactive isotopes that need to be monitored based on
the ore grade. With several decades of experience of monitoring pitchblende ore for uranium mines,
there is potential for good lesson-drawing on radiation monitoring from the uranium mining sector. In
particular, the high grade Athabascan uranium deposits in Saskatchewan, Canada deserve attention for
comparative protocols on monitoring.
Often, the major concern regarding radiation emanates from the processing of the ore which can
lead to thorium production. Since the major decay process for thorium involves alpha particle
emissions, it is important to have a particular monitoring plan around alpha-emitting sources. Alpha
emissions do not travel far but can cause more cellular damage, particularly when inhaled. There is a
vast amount of literature on monitoring alpha emissions from radona naturally occurring radioactive
gas which has caused major public health concerns for indoor air pollution in the basements of North
American homes.
6.2. Environmental (Air, Water, Soil)
Environmental monitoring of RE facilities is similar to most large industrial operations. The use of
complex organic and inorganic reagents in processing requires diligence in the wastewater treatment
system working and having secondary containment in case of failure (such containment is provided in
the LAMP facility) and the same is true of the new Molycorp expansion at Mountain Pass, California.
Given the history of pipe leakage at the site in the past, far more stringent environmental monitoring
has been instated.
Much of the monitoring for environmental harm is undertaken at the refinery level. As noted in a
US Environmental Protection Agency report in 2011: “Extracting the ore from the Earth represents
only a small portion of rare earth element production. Refining rare earth element bearing minerals
into marketable products constitutes the major aspect of rare earth element production” [9].
Carbonate rare earth minerals provide a natural buffer against hyperacidity that may come from
various acidic leaching processes in refinement. However, excessive carbonate presence can also lead
to alkalinity and therefore pH monitoring of treated effluent is essential.
6.3. Safety
Monitoring of safety considerations at RE sites follows protocols similar to other industrial
establishment in which solvent extraction, electrolytic processes and infrastructure for piping of high
intensity chemicals are used. Safety at sites is largely dependent on regulatory compliance and
enforcement and rare earth processing sites can occur in close proximity to human habitation as long
as there is stringent safety enforcement. French company Rhodia’s RE processing site in La Rochelle,
France is a fine example of such a site which is located in a small, closely-knit town with a strong
tourist economy and yet because of stringent safety standards there has been no palpable public
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opposition or any serious safety-related incident. The plant is subject to environmental surveillance by
the Installations Classées pour la Protection de l‘Environnement (ICPE) that has immense experience
with monitoring of safety at sites with radiation concerns, given France’s major dependence on nuclear
power. Safety standards from this site in particular are worth considering as blueprint for protocols at
other rare earth refinement facilities.
6.4. Health
Much of the public health concerns around RE emanate from concerns around thorium-containing
wastes as a source of radiation. The epidemiological evidence of the impact of RE mining is still
somewhat limited since much of the processing in China has not been undertaken with publicly
available monitoring. The only detailed study of RE health-related toxicity was carried out in the early
1990s by Hirano and Suzuki [10] and provides data similar to that of heavy metals toxicity concerns.
The data on thorium health impacts is also very limited and any negative health impacts monitored are
constrained by the fact that sample size in many cases has been too small to make any statistically
significant causation [11]. Ongoing health monitoring must remain an important part of the overall
community engagement plan for the LAMP site, particularly since so much of the environmental
conflict has emanated from perceptions of what constitutes an “acceptable dose” of radiation. The
public health data can render such arguments redundant if effectively demonstrated that there is no
longitudinal health impact over a statistically significant sample size around the plant.
7. Public Engagement
Because rare earth mining and processing has been predominantly taking place in China for the past
two decades, the public engagement experience on this sector is relatively limited. The Mountain Pass
mine in California is located in a relatively isolated area and although Las Vegas is only 70 miles away
and the pit is itself within a mile of a major interstate highway, the physical location of the mine is
hidden behind a mountain range. There has been very limited public interest on broad engagement
beyond the environmental and social impact assessment on that project’s reopening.
Given the lack of history of engagement, the Kuantan site for the LAMP facility had limited
precedent to go by in designing an effective public engagement process. There was an underestimation
of the level of resistance from residents and the awakening of fervent environmentalism. In any project
where a foreign company is locating a complex industrial site remotely from the source of the mine,
there can be some degree of suspicion that comes from what environmental scholars have traditionally
called “The NIMBY Syndrome—‘Not in my Back Yard’”. This was clearly the case with the Kuantan
site where the perception of the site being located in Malaysia far from the Australian mine raised
suspicions among activists which were initially not adequately addressed. For example, there was
spread of misinformation about the site not being permitted in Australia for environmental reasons.
However, a proactive policy of public engagement was initially not followed in the case of the
LAMP Kuantan site. Indeed, with RE sites, the importance of public engagement has now become
more acute because the wider public has started to associate RE with nuclear residues following
greater Malaysian activism and their alliances with European and Japanese anti-nuclear groups. Some
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lessons regarding how to approach public engagement in this particularly polarized context can be
learned from the Republic of Korea.
Korea’s Approach to Nuclear Power
An example of how public engagement around an environmentally charged development, similar to
the RE mining, has been undertaken at a national level comes from the Republic of Korea’s experience
with nuclear power development. Given the high degree of industrialization in Korea and the rapid rise
of affluence, there has been concern about environmental fall-out and its impact on quality of life.
While recognizing the need for stable energy sources, Koreans showed trepidation with the
development of nuclear power. Valentine and Sovacool [12] have documented how the social ethos
around nuclear development of South Korea evolved with reference to their history of conflict and
their familiarity with experiences in Japan.
The government’s approach to public engagement and the organizational issues which they covered
in this approach have been studied in detail by Choi et al. [13]. Figure 4 provides a schematic of the
organizational structure of government communication in the country around 2007 which was
suggested through International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines in response to growing
environmental resistance to siting of nuclear waste sites in the country.
Figure 4. Structure of Korean Nuclear Energy Program Implementation organization [13].
After the Japanese tsunami and the ensuing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, Korean public
sentiment towards the operating 23 nuclear power plants has deteriorated. An investigation found
Responsible Minister
Director of NEPIO
Legal & regulatory tea m Public information & public
consulta tion officer
Techn ical, comm ercia l & policy
consulta nts
Electric market & genera tion mix
assessment team
NPP technology & fuel cycle
assessmen t team
Environm ent assessment & sitting
tea m
Economic & technology
localization assessment team
Resources 2014, 3 132
nuclear plants were using components with faked safety certificates which led to the dismissal of Kim
Kyun-seop, the head of state-run Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Company.
President Park Geun-hye has said that it “would review the role of nuclear power to reflect social
acceptability in its energy plan due by the end of 2013”. The Korean government had planned to build
more reactors to cope with electricity demand it forecast to surge almost 60 per cent by the year 2027
but surveys show nuclear power is becoming increasingly unpopular. Sixty-three per cent of
respondents to a March 2013 survey by pollster Hangil Research said they consider domestic reactors
“unsafe”, compared with 54 per cent in a poll conducted a year earlier by the non-profit Korean
Federation for Environmental Movement [14].
Given the previous sound record of the Korean government managing public engagement in this
sector, it will be an important case to follow of how the current discontent on nuclear power and siting
of power plants is managed by the government as a means of drawing lessons for countries
like Malaysia.
8. Conclusions
The social component of sustainability can be defined as those components relating to the physical
and psychological well-being of humans within society. In this case we include both the individual and
social network elements which could be separated, for example under a “five capitals” approach (i.e.,
manufactured, financial, social, human and natural capitals). Recently, socio-environmental issues of
the health impacts of rare earth processing (from both radioactive and non-radioactive contamination)
in areas of China have been raised as a major concern. The question of whether sites that have been
contaminated by RE mineral processing can be adequately rehabilitated to allow for other uses
post-mining from a social sustainability perspective is linked to perceptions of health risks and the
technical ability to rehabilitate contaminated sites. The potential for such impacts has also been one of
the key drivers behind protests at the Lynas Corporation plant in Malaysia, partially fueled by the
negative experiences that a previous RE processing site on the peninsula.
Social resistance to RE mining also stems from arguments about environmental justice and how
processing sites are often more difficult to get permitted in developed countries and hence lead to their
location in developing countries. Indeed, environmental regulation was one key reason for the closure
of RE operation in the USA. Much of the resistance to the Lynas plant in Malaysia questioned whether
the company’s choice to situate the site in Malaysia was for purely economic factors or because
social resistance in Australia would have been far too great. Assuaging such perceptions of
differentiated standards and environmental justice concerns will be central in preventing escalation of
socio-environmental conflict.
On the other hand, there can be a social argument made for RE development as a contribution
towards developing a “green economy”. The Malaysian industrial park in Kuantan has made this case
in their branding of the initiative as part of a national planning effort towards sustainability. Social
perceptions of risk at the site level thus need to be balanced with broader national trajectory towards
sustainable technology development in determining the social sustainability of the RE sector.
Furthermore, recycling and service sector opportunities for this sector have much potential for
development as technologies improve for micro-retrieval of the metals. There is likely to be less social
Resources 2014, 3 133
resistance as efforts towards a circular economy for RE develops alongside their green economic uses
in products.
Support for this article was provided by the Academy of Sciences, Malaysia. Special thanks to
Gillian Cornish and Artem Golev for research support provided for this article.
Conflicts of Interest
The author declares no conflict of interest.
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© 2014 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article
distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license
... These latter have been classified as critical elements by the European Union [15]. The ore extraction requires important quantities of chemicals, water and energy [16,17], and it is thus associated with environmental and economic issues [17][18][19]. Most of the generated pollution results from the storage of the residues from the ore refining. ...
... These latter have been classified as critical elements by the European Union [15]. The ore extraction requires important quantities of chemicals, water and energy [16,17], and it is thus associated with environmental and economic issues [17][18][19]. Most of the generated pollution results from the storage of the residues from the ore refining. ...
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... Carbon emission during mining and processing of HMs is another environmental problem that contributes to global warming and climate change (Haque et al. 2014;Mehmood 2018). Pyrometallurgical methods are more environmentally friendly than hydrometallurgical methods (Kaniki and Tumba 2019), as the latter make extensive use of chemical reagents during the extraction and processing of HMs and REEs (De Baar et al. 1983;Ali 2014). Consequently, environmentally unfriendly by-products such as iron (III) chloride (Robinson et al. 1997) and acidic iron (II) sulphate (Ward et al. 1989) can be released during HM processing (Snyders et al. 2005). ...
Heavy minerals (HMs) are used in many high-tech applications (e.g. nuclear reactors, photovoltaic cells, electronics, green, and nano- and space technology), and thus global demand is increasing day by day. This review article is focused on the global distribution, genesis, economic geology, exploration and exploitation, demand (i.e. past, present, and future status of annual global production, consumption, and price), applications (geological and industrial uses), and major environmental issues mostly related to the HM sand industry. Heavy mineral deposits are distributed in more than 45 countries. Major HM deposits are located in Australia, Asia, and Africa, as secondary coastal placers bordering the Indian Ocean. Onshore and offshore deposits in the Americas, Europe, and other countries also contribute to the global HM market. Heavy mineral deposits are categorised as primary (magmatic, hydrothermal, metamorphic) or secondary (weathered, eroded, and transported sediments) deposits. Titanium, zirconium, and rare earth element (REEs) bearing minerals are key industrial commodities in the current global market. The heavy mineral industry has experienced healthy growth in unit price and global production due to increased demand generated by rapidly expanding economies such as those of China and India. Global production of zircon, ilmenite, and rutile has gradually increased over the last few decades. Global apparent consumption of ilmenite declined slightly from 1970 to 1995, in part due to introduction of stringent regulatory measures and government environmental policies in Europe and North America, as the main consumers of HMs at present. Mining and utilisation planning following the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are highly appropriate for the sustainability of the HM industry, and to overcome ecological challenges, health issues, and social resistance towards HM exploitation. Finally, we forecast changes in production and price of three HMs (ilmenite, rutile, and zircon) for the decade from 2020 to 2030, assuming there are no disturbances in production due to external factors such as the Covid-19 global pandemic or unfavourable geopolitical interventions.
... Sin embargo, aunque China lidera la producción de REEs (Favot & Massarutto, 2019), la realidad es que existen preocupaciones ecológicas sobre la contaminación de las minas de tierras raras en todo el mundo, un ejemplo es el conflicto social y ambiental que rodeó el desarrollo de la Planta de Materiales Avanzados de Lyna (LAMP) en Kuantan Malasia, dando lugar a un gran activismo internacional sobre la injusticia ambiental y social que generaba este tipo de plantas (Ali, 2014). ...
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Los elementos de tierras raras han sido considerados por diversos países como elementos críticos, debido a su importancia tecnológica que impulsa al mundo moderno, además, aunque las tierras raras pueden encontrarse en la mayor parte del mundo, en la actualidad existe un desabasto a nivel mundial, debido a la cada vez menor cantidad de yacimientos minerales que pueden ser económicamente rentables para su extracción y producción. En este sentido, poco más del 50% de la cantidad de tierras raras que se comercializan a nivel mundial, provienen de China, quien ha creado un monopolio en la producción y exportación de dichos elementos, de igual manera es importante mencionar que aunque ciertos elementos de tierras raras son indispensables para las nuevas tecnologías, sus procesos de extracción generan gases y efluentes peligrosos para el medio ambiente y el ser humano, razón por la cual diversos países han implementado políticas que encarecen el procedimiento de producción de tierras raras, encaminando a buscar alternativas que sean amigables con el ambiente y al mismo tiempo sean económicamente rentables.
Within the mining sector sustainable practices through the complete value chain of mineral raw materials are intensively discussed since the last decades. Especially due to the raising demand of these materials for individual industry sectors, such as the high-tech or automotive industry. Looking for example into cobalt, rare earth element or gold supply chains evidence exists for the risk of negative impacts on society, environment and economy at more or less every part of the value chain. However, what is the definition of sustainable practices? Moreover, how can the mining industry implement sustainable practices and how its efficiency can be controlled? For which raw material and in which value chain step does the implementation of sustainable practices have the greatest impact and value? The present paper provides insights into the implementation of sustainability in the mining sector through the CERA 4in1 certification scheme.
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This paper considers a host of definitions and labels attached to the concept of smart cities to identify four dimensions that ground a review of ethical concerns emerging from the current debate. These are: (1) network infrastructure, with the corresponding concerns of control, surveillance, and data privacy and ownership; (2) post-political governance, embodied in the tensions between public and private decision-making and cities as post-political entities; (3) social inclusion, expressed in the aspects of citizen participation and inclusion, and inequality and discrimination; and (4) sustainability, with a specific focus on the environment as an element to protect but also as a strategic element for the future. Given the persisting disagreements around the definition of a smart city, the article identifies in these four dimensions a more stable reference framework within which ethical concerns can be clustered and discussed. Identifying these dimensions makes possible a review of the ethical implications of smart cities that is transversal to their different types and resilient towards the unsettled debate over their definition.
This paper presents results of the study on the applicability of deep eutectic solvents (DES) for the recovery of rare earth elements (REE) from coal flyash (CFA) assaying REE 0.22%. The combination of DES used was choline chloride (ChCl) with lactic acid (LA) and ChCl with para toluene sulphonic acid monohydrate (pTSA). Besides the synthesis and characterisation of the DES systems, detailed study on their flow behaviour as a function of temperature and viscosity was also made. Screening studies indicated better leaching performance when the molar ratio of ChCl:pTSA and ChCl:LA were 1:1 and 1:2 respectively. Influence of various process parameters like temperature, solid to liquid ratio, reaction time and dilution ratio of DES with water on the leaching efficiency of REE and other impurity ions was investigated using the best molar ratio combination identified for the two systems. Performance of the DES systems were compared with that of individual hydrogen bond donors (HBD) namely, LA and pTSA, hydrogen bond acceptor (HBA) viz. ChCl as well as with H2SO4. The dissolved REE from the DES medium were selectively and quantitatively recovered by chemical precipitation. The DES systems gave REE leachability of about 85–95%. The mixture of ChCl:pTSA(1:1) showed higher leach recovery and faster kinetics compared to ChCl:LA(1:2). Both DES systems gave a decisive 5–8% higher leachability than the individual HBDs (LA and pTSA) and HBA (ChCl) which constitute the respective eutectic. Comparison of leaching performance of REE using DES with that of H2SO4 indicated significant enhancement, about 35%, with the former over the inorganic acid. A probable leaching mechanism of REE with the DES used is also proposed. Precipitation of REE from the DES medium was near complete with oxalic acid and NaF reagents.
Mass production and insatiable consumption are leading to enormous waste worldwide, contaminating the entire biosphere, losing biodiversity, and climate change. Craving for materialistic things and buying sprees for newer products indicate the dominant roles of human behavior in imminent ecological, social, and economic crises. However, existing global environmental governance has failed to address the current consumption patterns, particularly in rich countries. There is no inclusive developmental policy that integrates human behavior intervention to reduce unnecessary consumption, closed-loop material flow systems to keep waste out of the system, and economic strategies addressing ecological disaster from a social equity standpoint. The paper is based on a critical literature review of three concepts, relevance of behavioral economics in pro-environmental decision making, scope and limitations of circular economy as technological solutions, and conflicts of ecological economics with dominant neoclassical economics pitting ‘degrowth’ as an alternative. The paper proposes a theoretical concept of a novel economic model (minimalonomics) that aims to provide an institutional framework for a minimalist lifestyle without compromising wellbeing, prosperity, equity, and justice. The model focuses on minimizing consumption at the individual and societal levels, integrating theories and principles of ecological economics and behavioral economics, and efficient application of circular economy. Minimalonomics emphasizes creating a pro-environmental attitude in all levels of society (producers, consumers, and government) and translating the individual's perspective to collective and coordinated action for protecting the biosphere. Contrary to the standard economic approach, minimalonomics restores the value of localization and appropriates local social and cultural norms regarding consumption, waste reduction, and environmental protection; thus, the model is more inclusive. Minimalonomics is a novel concept; therefore, before application to governance and policies, it needs further research on creating theories, developing indicators, and testing them in the field.
Neodymium (Nd), an essential type of rare earth element, has attracted increasing attention in recent years due to its significant role in emerging technologies and its globally imbalanced demand and supply. Understanding the global and regional Nd stocks and flows would thus be important for understanding and mitigating potential supply risks. In this work, we applied a trade-linked multiregional material flow analysis to map the global and regional neodymium cycles from 1990 to 2020. We reveal increasingly complex trade patterns of Nd-containing products and a clearly dominant but slightly weakening role of China in the global Nd trade (for both raw materials and semi- and final products) along the life cycle in the last 30 years. A total of 880 kt Nd was mined accumulatively and flowed into the global socioeconomic system, mainly as NdFeB permanent magnets (79%) in semi-products and conventional vehicles and home appliances (together 48%) in final products. Approximately 64% (i.e., 563 kt Nd) of all the mined Nd globally were not recycled, indicating a largely untapped potential of recycling in securing Nd supply and an urgency to overcome the present technological and non-technical challenges. The global Nd cycle in the past three decades is characterized by different but complementary roles of different regions along the global Nd value chain: China dominates in the provision of raw materials and semi- and final products, Japan focuses on the manufacturing of magnets and electronics, and the United States and European Union show advantages in the vehicle industry. Anticipating increasing demand of Nd in emerging energy and transport technologies in the future, more coordinated efforts among different regions and increased recycling are urgently needed for ensuring both regional and global Nd supply and demand balance and a common green future.
Pure organic room‐temperature phosphorescence (RTP) materials have been widely utilized in security signs, anti‐counterfeiting, data encrypting, and other fields, which have attracted great attention. In the past few years, smart materials with color‐tunable organic RTP materials are reported by many researchers, while the work focused on the color‐tunable polymeric RTP materials is still rare, especially for molecular weight‐dependent polymeric RTP systems. Here, we designed and prepared three molecular weight polymers P1, P2, and P3 by different polymerization reaction times, and found that the fluorescence emissions of these polymer powders are various. Unexpectedly, the molecular weight‐dependent polymeric RTP materials are achieved through doping these polymers into polyacrylonitrile (PAN) matrix, and the International de l'Eclairage was redshift from (0.205,0.257) to (0.503,0.435). This phenomenon is ascribed to the different aggregation states formed by assembly of different molecular weight polymeric chains. Meanwhile, the electrostatic interaction between phosphor and PAN is hardly affected by water. Therefore, advanced information encryption can be achieved by using these polymeric phosphors as anti‐counterfeiting ink. The molecular weight‐dependent polymeric room‐temperature phosphorescence systems are achieved through doping polymeric phosphors into matrix due to different aggregation states formed by the assembly of different molecular weight polymeric chains. Interestingly, the electrostatic interaction between the phosphor and polyacrylonitrile is almost unaffected by the water, thus advanced information encryption can be achieved using these polymeric phosphors as anti‐counterfeiting ink.
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Lanmodulin (LanM), a naturally lanthanide (Ln)-binding protein with a remarkable selectivity for Lns over Ca(ii) and affinities in the picomolar range, is an attractive target to address challenges in Ln separation. Why LanM has such a high selectivity is currently not entirely understood; both specific amino acid sequences of the EF-Hand loops and cooperativity effects have been suggested. Here, we removed the effect of cooperativity and synthesised all four 12-amino acid EF-Hand loop peptides, and investigated their affinity for two Lns (Eu(iii) and Tb(iii)), the actinide Cm(iii) and Ca(ii). Using isothermal titration calorimetry and time-resolved laser fluorescence spectroscopy (TRLFS) combined with parallel factor analysis, we show that the four short peptides behave very similarly, having affinities in the micromolar range for Eu(iii) and Tb(iii). Ca(ii) was shown not to bind to the peptides, which was verified with circular dichroism spectroscopy. This technique also revealed an increase in structural organisation upon Eu(iii) addition, which was supported by molecular dynamics simulations. Lastly, we put Eu(iii) and Cm(iii) in direct competition using TRLFS. Remarkably, a slightly higher affinity for Cm(iii) was found. Our results demonstrate that the picomolar affinities in LanM are largely an effect of pre-structuring and therefore a reduction of flexibility in combination with cooperative effects, and that all EF-Hand loops possess similar affinities when detached from the protein backbone, albeit still retaining the high selectivity for lanthanides and actinides over calcium.
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Geotectonically, the Bayan Obo deposit is located on the northern margin of the North China platform. When the Proterozoic Bayan Obo Group was formed, the area was probably a rift tectonic environment. Dolomite, the main wall rock (or host rock) of the orebody of the Bayan Obo REE deposit, shows a distinct stratified structure and is remarkably similar to REE-rich and Nb-rich carbonatite rocks elsewhere in the world in mineral constituents, petrochemical composition and incompatible element composition. K-feldspar rock, another host rock of the orebody, may have been formed as a result of volcanic exhalation.The SmNd whole rock (whole ore) isochron age of the Main orebody of the Bayan Obo deposit is 1.58 Ga, and the SmNd model age is 1.61 Ga, with εNd(t) being +6.1. The data suggest that the ore deposit was formed in the Middle Proterozoic, and that the ore-forming material came from the mantle. Middle Proterozoic seems to be the time when the Bayan Obo Group was deposited; the REE metallization occurred together with the deposition of the strata. The isochron age is close to the model age, implying that the ore-forming material was precipitated to form the ore deposit immediately after its separation from the mantle, without much contamination by crustal substances.Beside a Middle Proterozoic metallogenic age, Caledonian and Hercynian ages have also been recorded: for the former time interval, the RbSr isochron age of the Kuangou carbonatite vein determined by the authors is 433 Ma; for the latter time interval, the ThPb age of aeschynite from the ore deposit and the RbSr isochron age of biotite granite from the southern part of the ore district were already determined by previous workers. These data indicate that the ore-forming process was polyphasic. In addition, δ18Omagnetite values of massive REE-Fe ore are −2.99 to +3.55%, and δ18Omagnetite values of riebeckite REE-Fe ore are +0.76 to +1.92%. These values, together with the S isotope data obtained by previous workers, also suggest that the ore-forming material for the ore deposit was derived from deep sources.The ore-forming process of the Bayan Obo deposit was, as indicated above, polyphasic, but the major metallization took place in the Middle Proterozoic. The ore-forming material was brought upward in the form of volcanic exhalations from the mantle, and then through sedimentation formed an ore deposit which was genetically of alkalic rock-carbonatite type. In the Caledonian time interval, with the intrusion of carbonatite veins, small amounts of ore-forming material might have been brought upward from depths, leading to extensive metasomatism. In the Hercynian time interval, with the intrusion of granite in the south, the ore deposit was transformed and the metasomatism further developed; nevertheless, little REE ore-forming material was brought into the orebody from depths or from the outside at that time.
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A case-control study of 112 households residing in the vicinity of a thorium waste disposal site found a higher prevalence of birth defects (RR 2.1) and liver diseases (RR 2.3) among exposed than the unexposed group. The numbers were quite small and the confidence intervals wide, however, so that no definite conclusions can be drawn from these data.
This paper analyzes the socio-cultural, political and economic conditions prevalent during the inception of nuclear power programs in Japan and South Korea in order to identify commonalities which support nuclear power program expansion. The study identifies six factors as having a clear influence on supporting nuclear power development: (1) strong state involvement in guiding economic development; (2) centralization of national energy policymaking and planning; (3) campaigns to link technological progress with national revitalization; (4) influence of technocratic ideology on policy decisions; (5) subordination of challenges to political authority, and (6) low levels of civic activism. The paper postulates that insights from this study can be used to assess the propensity of nations which have the emergent capacity to support nuclear power development to actually embark on such programs.
This paper summarized a development history and lessons of Korean nuclear power infrastructures from the beginning of the nuclear power program in 1956 to the localization of complete scope of PWR technology in 1990. The objective of this paper is to show the guideline on the issues that the development of a national infrastructure for nuclear power using the realistic experiences in order to help the developing countries newly starting nuclear power program as a long-term energy supply option. Development strategies and lessons learned from the successful Korean experience have been presented based on milestones structure of IAEA in order to help decision makers, advisers, senior managers and national planners of nuclear power program. Lessons for national nuclear power programs include considerations before launching a program, preparation and decision making, and the construction of the first nuclear power plant. Scope of these lessons includes knowledge and human resources management, financial and industrial infrastructure development, nuclear safety, legislative and regulatory experiences, fuel cycle and waste management, international cooperation. Fourteen lessons learned either positive or not are derived from the Korean case and are suggested for incorporation in the IAEA's efforts in support of developing countries’ development of nuclear infrastructure and planning.
For the past three decades, most attention in heavy metal toxicology has been paid to cadmium, mercury, lead, chromium, nickel, vanadium, and tin because these metals widely polluted the environment. However, with the development of new materials in the last decade, the need for toxicological studies on those new materials has been increasing. A group of rare earths (RE) is a good example. Although some RE have been used for superconductors, plastic magnets, and ceramics, few toxicological data are available compared to other heavy metals described above. Because chemical properties of RE are very similar, it is plausible that their binding affinities to biomolecules, metabolism, and toxicity in the living system are also very similar. In this report, we present an overview of the metabolism and health hazards of RE and related compounds, including our recent studies. Images Figure 1. A Figure 1. B Figure 1. C
China Cites Environment to Justify Grip on Rare Earths. The Sydney Morning Herald Available online: environment-to-justify-grip-on-rare-earths
  • P Cai
  • G Wilkins
Cai, P.; Wilkins, G. China Cites Environment to Justify Grip on Rare Earths. The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 June 2012. Available online: environment-to-justify-grip-on-rare-earths-20120620-20omc.html (accessed on 16 December 2013).