Durham University

Centre for Resources and Earth Energy Systems (CeREES)

Resources from Waste

World demand for rare earth elements (REE) has been growing year on year with the consequence that they are rated as being the 5th most at risk element/group of elements in the British Geological survey 2011 risk list.  New technologies, including green renewable energy, have led this surge in demand as they rely heavily upon the properties of elements such as neodymium and cerium.  At the same time China has emerged as the dominant supplier in the REE, producing around 97% of global rare earth element supply.  However, in 2010 China's rare earth export quota was easily outstripped by a world demand, meaning that the economically developed countries need to find new, accessible sources of these rare earth and strategic elements.

Work carried out by The Geochemical Reclamation of Industrial Minerals & Elements (GRIME), research group demonstrates that industrial waste materials such as slags and oil-shale residues can contain elevated quantities of REEs. The high volumes associated with such waste streams means that the total REE resource can be significant and be found close to market. The partitioning of the REEs into soluble phases during natural process also mean that reclaiming the REEs from the waste may not be technically onerous or environmentally problematic. Therefore we are confident that with better use of industrial waste streams the global demand for REEs may be satisfied.

Publications

  • 2012 Finlay A.J., Gluyas, J.G., Worrall, F., Greenwell, H.C. and Foster, H. (2012) Rare earth elements need not cost the earth, Materials World.
  • Henderson, P. Gluyas, J.G., Gunn, G., Wall, F., Woolley, A. And Finlay, A.J. (2011) Rare Earth Briefing Note - The Geological Society