The Critical West: raw materials and rare earths
Wall, F; Owens, C
Date: 20 April 2017
Open University Geological Society
Critical raw materials are defined as raw materials that are economically important but vulnerable to supply disruption. They are important now because we mine and use a wider range of elements than ever before. Digital and medical technologies, clean energy and electric vehicles are examples of applications that use the properties of ...
Critical raw materials are defined as raw materials that are economically important but vulnerable to supply disruption. They are important now because we mine and use a wider range of elements than ever before. Digital and medical technologies, clean energy and electric vehicles are examples of applications that use the properties of particular materials. These high-technology applications often only need small amounts of raw material that can come from just a few mines in one or two countrie,s and hence the supply risk. The UK South West has the world’s fourth largest deposit of the critical metal, tungsten, being mined at the Drakelands mine in Devon. The South West may also have potential for indium, as well as lithium and tin, which although not defined as ‘critical’ at the moment are also important high-technology raw materials. The UK Natural Environment Research Council funds a research programme called ‘SoS Minerals’ that is helping to find secure and environmentally-friendly solutions to critical metals supply for environmental technologies. Rare earth elements (REE) are perhaps the most famous critical metals. They have many use,s but supply is dominated by China. The geochemistry of REE is controlled by the lanthanide contraction, which results in the 15 REE almost always being associated with each other, but undergoing a smooth fractionation of light from heavy members of the series. The SoS RARE project is researching how light and heavy REE are transported and concentrated, including working on carbonatites in Malawi and Namibia, in order to help exploration companies target the REE that are needed the most. There are many different types of REE deposit to choose from and besides working to help make exploration and processing of carbonatites and alkaline rocks more efficient, SoS RARE is working to understand how REE are concentrated in ion-adsorption clay deposits and how they may be extracted in an environmentally friendly way. If this can be achieved, they could provide a low-impact way to produce REE in the future.
Camborne School of Mines
College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences
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