Economic Potential and Characteristics of REE Deposits and Other Critical Raw Materials

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

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (17 September 2021) | Viewed by 24259

Special Issue Editors

School of Chemistry-Laboratory of Chemical & Environmental Technology Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, 54124 Thessaloniki, Greece
Interests: REE; mineralogy; geochemistry; minerals economics
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
Graduate School of International Resource Sciences, Akita University, 1-1, Tegata-Gakuenmachi, Akita 010-8502, Japan
Interests: ore deposit geology; mineral resources; critical metals; deposit model; resource potential; unconventional resource source; rare earth elements; cobalt; nickel; lithium; galium; germanium
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The European Union’s (EU) list of critical raw materials is expanding. As of 2020, it contains 30 materials, including Rare Earth Elements (REEs), platinum group metals, while bauxite, lithium, titanium, and strontium have recently been added. REEs are important due to their usage in high-tech applications. The supply of critical raw materials is limited and is derived mostly from non-EU countries. The search for new REE deposits is in progress, as the most important global REE producer is China. As a result of the current metallurgical technology, some deposits whose REE budget is silicate minerals are not economical. The management of the elevated natural radioactivity associated with the REE-enriched minerals is also important. Apart from new leaching techniques of REEs from various sources, an overview of the current trends in the REE market is important in order to be able to define new strategies and encourage research that would make possible to exploit new deposits. A detailed study on the supply, demand, and in-depth analyses of the critical raw materials global market, including forecasts about the variation of the market trends, would encourage further research related to critical raw materials.

The purpose of this Special Issue is to provide not only new techniques about beneficiation of critical raw materials like REE leaching, but also analyses of the global market of critical raw materials, along with case studies of new critical raw material deposits that could be economical in the future due to the progress of metallurgical techniques and variations in the prices and global market.

Dr. Argyrios Papadopoulos
Prof. Dr. Yasushi Watanabe
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • critical raw materials
  • mineral deposits
  • economic viability
  • geochemistry
  • metallurgy
  • mineral exploration

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

18 pages, 1173 KiB  
Article
A Fundamental Economic Assessment of Recovering Rare Earth Elements and Critical Minerals from Acid Mine Drainage Using a Network Sourcing Strategy
Minerals 2021, 11(11), 1298; https://doi.org/10.3390/min11111298 - 22 Nov 2021
Cited by 8 | Viewed by 3231
Abstract
In recent years, acid mine drainage (AMD) has emerged as a promising unconventional source of rare earth elements (REEs) and other critical minerals (CMs) such as cobalt and manganese. In this regard, AMD provides a natural heap leaching effect that extracts and concentrates [...] Read more.
In recent years, acid mine drainage (AMD) has emerged as a promising unconventional source of rare earth elements (REEs) and other critical minerals (CMs) such as cobalt and manganese. In this regard, AMD provides a natural heap leaching effect that extracts and concentrates REE/CM from the host strata creating a partially enriched feedstock suitable for downstream extraction, separation, and recovery. While several prior studies have described processes and approaches for the valorization of AMD, very few have described the supply chain and infrastructure requirements as well as the associated economic assessment. To that end, this paper provides a fundamental economic assessment of REE/CM recovery from AMD using a network sourcing strategy in addition to a robust, flexible feedstock separations and refining facility. The methodology of this paper follows that of a typical techno-economic analysis with capital and operating costs estimated using AACE Class IV (FEL-2) guidelines. To demonstrate the range of possible outcomes, four pricing scenarios were modeled including contemporary prices (September, 2021) as well as the minimum and maximum prices over the last decade. In addition, five production scenarios were considered reflecting variations in the product suite, ranging from full elemental separation to magnet REE and CM production only (i.e., Pr, Nd, Tb, Dy, Y, Sc, Co, and Mn). The results of this analysis show that, with the exception of the minimum price scenario, all operational configurations have positive economic indicators with rates of return varying from 25% to 32% for the contemporary price scenario. The optimal configuration was determined to be production of Co, Mn, and all REEs except for mischmetal, which is not recovered. Sensitivity analysis and Monte Carlo simulation show that capital cost and HCl consumption are the two major factors influencing rate of return, thus indicating opportunities for future technology development and cost optimization. Implications of the study and a cooperative profit-sharing model for sourcing are also described. Full article
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40 pages, 12037 KiB  
Article
The Potential for REE and Associated Critical Metals in Karstic Bauxites and Bauxite Residue of Montenegro
Minerals 2021, 11(9), 975; https://doi.org/10.3390/min11090975 - 07 Sep 2021
Cited by 18 | Viewed by 3647
Abstract
Research for critical raw materials is of special interest, due to their increasing demand, opulence of applications and shortage of supply. Bauxites, or bauxite residue after alumina extraction can be sources of critical raw materials (CRMs) due to their content of rare earth [...] Read more.
Research for critical raw materials is of special interest, due to their increasing demand, opulence of applications and shortage of supply. Bauxites, or bauxite residue after alumina extraction can be sources of critical raw materials (CRMs) due to their content of rare earth elements and other critical elements. Montenegrin bauxites and bauxite residue (red mud) are investigated for their mineralogy and geochemistry. The study of the CRM’s potential of the Montenegrin bauxite residue after the application of Bayer process, is performed for the first time. Montenegrin bauxites, (Jurassic bauxites from the Vojnik-Maganik and Prekornica ore regions from the Early Jurassic, Middle Jurassic-Oxfordian and Late Triassic paleorelief) are promising for their REE’s content (around 1000 ppm of ΣREE’s). More specifically, they are especially enriched in LREEs compared to HREEs. Regarding other CRMs and other elements, Ti, V, Zr, Nb, Sr and Ga could also be promising. In bauxite residue, the contents of Zr, Sr, V, Sc, La, Ce, Y, Ti and Nb are higher than those in bauxites. However, raw bauxites and bauxite residue as a secondary raw material can be considered as possible sources of CRMs. Full article
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13 pages, 7473 KiB  
Article
Mineralogy, Geochemistry and Provenance of Coastal Sands from Greece: New Insights on the REE Content of Black Coastal Sands from Aggelochori Area, N.-Greece
Minerals 2021, 11(7), 693; https://doi.org/10.3390/min11070693 - 28 Jun 2021
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1901
Abstract
Beach sands from Aggelochori coast line are investigated for their geochemistry and REE content, mineralogy and their provenance. These fluvial sands bear heavy minerals enriched horizons (containing minerals such as magnetite, zircon, ilmenite, hematite, rutile and titanite) that can be distinguished due to [...] Read more.
Beach sands from Aggelochori coast line are investigated for their geochemistry and REE content, mineralogy and their provenance. These fluvial sands bear heavy minerals enriched horizons (containing minerals such as magnetite, zircon, ilmenite, hematite, rutile and titanite) that can be distinguished due to their black color and are formed usually due to the action of sea waves that deposit the heavy minerals and remove the lighter ones. After a suitable processing (washing, sieving, drying and magnetic separation) of the samples, the mineral constituents and their presence (wt.%) were estimated by XRD. Among the samples, the one being simultaneously the more fine grained and the more zircon-enriched (as suggested by XRPD data and optical microscopy analysis) has been selected for further geochemical analyses. The major and trace elements contents were compared to previously studied REE enriched beach sands from Kavala and Sithonia. Beach sands from Aggelochori area appear to have relatively low REE contents. Considering the provenance of these sediments, we suggest that these sands, are a product of the erosion of multi-sources, including the near-by Monopigado granite, as well as metamorphic rocks, as indicated by the presence of rutile and both ilmenite and magnetite in some samples. Therefore, there are indications of a complex flow pattern that existed at the paleo-catchment area of the deposition. Full article
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17 pages, 2528 KiB  
Article
The Recovery and Concentration of Spodumene Using Dense Media Separation
Minerals 2021, 11(6), 649; https://doi.org/10.3390/min11060649 - 18 Jun 2021
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 7114
Abstract
In coming years, global lithium production is expected to increase as the result of widespread electric vehicle adoption. To meet the expected increase in demand, lithium must be sourced from both brine and hard-rock deposits. Heavy liquid separation (HLS) and dense media separation [...] Read more.
In coming years, global lithium production is expected to increase as the result of widespread electric vehicle adoption. To meet the expected increase in demand, lithium must be sourced from both brine and hard-rock deposits. Heavy liquid separation (HLS) and dense media separation (DMS) tests were conducted on the pegmatites from Hidden Lake, NWT, Canada to demonstrate the potential role of this technology in the concentration of spodumene (LiAlSi2O6) from hard-rock sources. A continuously operated DMS circuit test, conducted on +840 µm material, produced a concentrate grading 6.11% Li2O with ~50% lithium recovery. The circuit rejected 50% of the original mass to tailings, with only 8% lithium losses. Sensitivity analysis showed that minor changes (+/−0.05) in the DMS-specific gravity cut point resulted in significant changes to the mass rejected and to the concentrate grade produced; this may limit the feasibility and operability of the downstream grinding and flotation circuits. The results demonstrate the potential for DMS in the concentration of spodumene from the Hidden Lake pegmatites, and by extension, the potential for DMS in the concentration of spodumene from other hard-rock occurrences. Full article
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21 pages, 5271 KiB  
Article
REE-Rich Turonian Phosphates in the Bohemian Cretaceous Basin, Czech Republic: Assessment as Source of Critical Elements and Implications for Future Exploration
Minerals 2021, 11(3), 246; https://doi.org/10.3390/min11030246 - 26 Feb 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2316
Abstract
Numerous phosphate occurrences are located in the Bohemian Cretaceous Basin (BCB) of the Czech Republic, within the Cenomanian–Turonian sequences. Small phosphate occurrences have been reported in the Upper Cenomanian, Lower Turonian, and Upper Turonian marine glauconitic siliciclasts. The phosphates are generally <1 m [...] Read more.
Numerous phosphate occurrences are located in the Bohemian Cretaceous Basin (BCB) of the Czech Republic, within the Cenomanian–Turonian sequences. Small phosphate occurrences have been reported in the Upper Cenomanian, Lower Turonian, and Upper Turonian marine glauconitic siliciclasts. The phosphates are generally <1 m thick, present as phosphatized hardgrounds, nodules, coprolites, skeletal remains, phosphatized shells, peloids, sponges, and tube-fills, associated with black mudstone and other siliciclasts. Only recently the critical elements have been highlighted in these phosphates. The present study covers eight of these occurrences and provides information on petrography, mineralogy, and chemical composition of major elements, trace elements, and stable isotopes. The phosphate mineralogy is comprised of carbonate-fluorapatite, associated with quartz, glauconite, smectite, kaolinite, and pyrite. Most of the phosphates are rich in organic matter. The phosphate chemistry is dominated by P2O5, CaO, F, Na2O, SO3, and CO2. Minor amounts of SiO2, Al2O3, K2O, and MgO are found, related to quartz and alumino-silicate impurities. Evidence of fossil microbial structures is revealed. The indices derived from rare earth elements (REE) indicate phosphogenesis at various redox conditions, ranging from anoxic to oxic, whereas the carbon stable isotopes of the apatite suggest generally reducing conditions. The critical and other valuable elements found in these Mid-Cretaceous phosphates include P2O5 (18.9–26.76 wt. %), F (1.67–3.25 wt. %), REE (325–1338 ppm), Y (74–368 ppm), and U (10.4–37.9 ppm). The investigation of the Turonian phosphate occurrences show that those located at the base of the Bílá Hora Formation (earliest Turonian) are the most persistent in the southern margins of the BCB, and found in localities extending for about 200 km. They were developed at the onset of the Early Turonian global transgression and are strata-bound to the base of the Bílá Hora Formation. Future exploration for marine sedimentary phosphorites should focus on thicker and better developed deposits at the base of the Turonian sediments as the main target. Full article
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17 pages, 7834 KiB  
Article
Mechanism and Influencing Factors of REY Enrichment in Deep-Sea Sediments
Minerals 2021, 11(2), 196; https://doi.org/10.3390/min11020196 - 13 Feb 2021
Cited by 20 | Viewed by 2616
Abstract
Deep-sea sediments with high contents of rare-earth elements and yttrium (REY) are expected to serve as a potential resource for REY, which have recently been proved to be mainly contributed by phosphate component. Studies have shown that the carriers of REY in deep-sea [...] Read more.
Deep-sea sediments with high contents of rare-earth elements and yttrium (REY) are expected to serve as a potential resource for REY, which have recently been proved to be mainly contributed by phosphate component. Studies have shown that the carriers of REY in deep-sea sediments include aluminosilicate, Fe-Mn oxyhydroxides, and phosphate components. The ∑REY of the phosphate component is 1–2 orders of magnitude higher than those of the other two carriers, expressed as ∑REY = 0.001 × [Al2O3] − 0.002 × [MnO] + 0.056 × [P2O5] − 32. The sediment P2O5 content of 1.5% explains 89.1% of the total variance of the sediment ∑REY content. According to global data, P has a stronger positive correlation with ∑REY compared with Mn, Fe, Al, etc.; 45.5% of samples have a P2O5 content of less than 0.25%, and ∑REY of not higher than 400 ppm. The ∑REY of the phosphate component reaches n × 104 ppm, much higher than that of marine phosphorites and lower than that of REY-phosphate minerals, which are called REY-rich phosphates in this study. The results of microscopic observation and separation by grain size indicate that the REY-rich phosphate component is mainly composed of bioapatite. When ∑REY > 2000 ppm, the average CaO/P2O5 ratio of the samples is 1.55, indicating that the phosphate composition is between carbonate fluoroapatite and hydroxyfluorapatite. According to a knowledge map of sediment elements, the phosphate component is mainly composed of P, Ca, Sr, REY, Sc, U, and Th, and its chemical composition is relatively stable. The phosphate component has a negative Ce anomaly and positive Y anomaly, and a REY pattern similar to that of marine phosphorites and seawater. After the early diagenesis process (biogeochemistry, adsorption, desorption, transformation, and migration), the REY enrichment in the phosphate component is completed near the seawater/sediment interface. In the process of REY enrichment, the precipitation and enrichment of P is critical. According to current research progress, the REY enrichment is the result of comprehensive factors, including low sedimentation rate, high ∑REY of the bottom seawater, a non-carbonate depositional environment, oxidation conditions, and certain bottom current conditions. Full article
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24 pages, 4980 KiB  
Article
Geochemical and Geochronological Constraints on the Genesis of Ion-Adsorption-Type REE Mineralization in the Lincang Pluton, SW China
Minerals 2020, 10(12), 1116; https://doi.org/10.3390/min10121116 - 12 Dec 2020
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 2250
Abstract
Granites are assumed to be the main source of heavy rare-earth elements (HREEs), which have important applications in modern society. However, the geochemical and petrographic characteristics of such granites need to be further constrained, especially as most granitic HREE deposits have undergone heavy [...] Read more.
Granites are assumed to be the main source of heavy rare-earth elements (HREEs), which have important applications in modern society. However, the geochemical and petrographic characteristics of such granites need to be further constrained, especially as most granitic HREE deposits have undergone heavy weathering. The LC batholith comprises both fresh granite and ion-adsorption-type HREE deposits, and contains four main iRee (ion-adsorption-type REE) deposits: the Quannei (QN), Shangyun (SY), Mengwang (MW), and Menghai (MH) deposits, which provide an opportunity to elucidate these characteristics The four deposits exhibit light REE (LREE) enrichment, and the QN deposit is also enriched in HREEs. The QN and MH deposits were chosen for study of their petrology, mineralogy, geochemistry, and geochronology to improve our understanding of the formation of iRee deposits. The host rock of the QN and MH deposits is granite that includes REE accessory minerals, with monazite, xenotime, and allanite occurring as euhedral inclusions in feldspar and biotite, and thorite, fluorite(–Y), and REE fluorcarbonate occurring as anhedral filling in cavities in quartz and feldspar. Zircon U–Pb dating analysis of the QN (217.8 ± 1.7 Ma, MSWD = 1.06; and 220.3 ± 1.2 Ma, MSWD = 0.71) and MH (232.2 ± 1.7 Ma, MSWD = 0.58) granites indicates they formed in Late Triassic, with this being the upper limit of the REE-mineral formation age. The host rock of the QN and MH iRee deposits is similar to most LC granites, with high A/CNK ratios (>1.1) and strongly peraluminous characteristics similar to S-type granites. The LC granites (including the QN and MH granites) have strongly fractionated REE patterns (LREE/HREE = 1.89–11.97), negative Eu anomalies (Eu/Eu* = 0.06–0.25), and are depleted in Nb, Zr, Hf, P, Ba, and Sr. They have high 87Sr/86Sr ratios (0.710194–0.751763) and low 143Nd/144Nd ratios (0.511709–0.511975), with initial Sr and Nd isotopic compositions of (87Sr/86Sr)i = 0.72057–0.72129 and εNd(220 Ma) = −9.57 to −9.75. Their initial Pb isotopic ratios are: 206Pb/204Pb = 18.988–19.711; 208Pb/204Pb = 39.713–40.216; and 207Pb/204Pb = 15.799–15.863. The Sr–Nd–Pb isotopic data and TDM2 ages suggest that the LC granitic magma had a predominantly crustal source. The REE minerals are important features of these deposits, with feldspars and micas altering to clay minerals containing Ree3+ (exchangeable REE), whose concentration is influenced by the intensity of weathering; the stronger the chemical weathering, the more REE minerals are dissolved. Secondary mineralization is also a decisive factor for Ree3+ enrichment. Stable geology within a narrow altitudinal range of 300–600 m enhances Ree3+ retention. Full article
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