by O. Rudgard, September 3, 2020 in ClimateChaneDispatch
Mining for renewable energy materials could threaten biodiversity, researchers have found.
Scientists at the University of Queensland, Brisbane found a high degree of overlap between areas used for mining essential minerals like lithium, which is used for car batteries, and areas with high levels of biodiversity as yet untouched by industry.
Conservationists are “often naive to the threats posed by significant growth in renewable energies”, the researchers said in the study published in the journal Nature Communications, pointing out that 14 percent of protected areas contain metal mines or have them nearby.
Overall, the researchers found that eight percent of mining areas were within the range of areas designated as protected by national governments, and seven percent were within the same range of key biodiversity areas.
Using this metric, 50 million square kilometers of the earth’s land surface is influenced by mining, with 82 percent of mining areas focused on elements needed for renewable energy production.
Researchers at Purdue University in the US have developed a new technology that promises to be a game-changer in the extraction of rare earths.
In a paper published in the journal Green Chemistry, the scientists explain that the patented extraction and purifying processes use ligand-assisted chromatography and are shown to remove and purify rare earth metals from coal ash, recycled magnets and raw ore safely, efficiently and with virtually no detrimental environmental impact.
This is key because, at present, many companies across the world don’t even dare to consider extracting REE due to the damages caused to the environment by acid-based separation and purification of these elements.
“About 60% of rare earth metals are used in magnets that are needed in almost everyone’s daily lives. These metals are used in electronics, aeroplanes, hybrid cars and even windmills,” Nien-Hwa Linda Wang, whose lab developed the technology, said in a media statement. “We currently have one dominant foreign source for these metals and if the supply were to be limited for any reason, it would be devastating to people’s lives. It’s not that the resource isn’t available in the US, but that we need a better, cleaner way to process these rare earth metals.”
See also Two-zone ligand-assisted displacement chromatography for producing high-purity praseodymium, neodymium, and dysprosium with high yield and high productivity from crude mixtures derived from waste magnets (here)
Rare metallic elements found in clumps on the deep-ocean floor mysteriously remain uncovered despite the shifting sands and sediment many leagues under the sea. Scientists now think they know why, and it could have important implications for mining these metals while preserving the strange fauna at the bottom of the ocean.
The growth of these deep-sea nodules — metallic lumps of manganese, iron, and other metals found in all the major ocean basins — is one of the slowest known geological processes. These ringed concretions, which are potential sources of rare-earth and other critical elements, grow on average just 10 to 20 millimeters every million years. Yet in one of earth science’s most enduring mysteries, they somehow manage to avoid being buried by sediment despite their locations in areas where clay accumulates at least 100 times faster than the nodules grow.
Understanding how these agglomerations of metals remain on the open sea floor could help geoscientists provide advice on accessing them for industrial use. A new study published this month in Geology will help scientists understand this process better.
“It is important that any mining of these resources is done in a way that preserves the fragile deep-sea environments in which they are found,” said lead author Adriana Dutkiewicz, an ARC Future Fellow in the School of Geosciences at The University of Sydney.
Rare-earth and other critical elements are essential for the development of technologies needed for low-carbon economies. They will play an increasingly important role for next-generation solar cells, efficient wind turbines, and rechargeable batteries that will power the renewables revolution.
Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have mapped a rare earth element deposit of magmatic carbonatite located in the Mountain Pass region of the eastern Mojave Desert. The new report details the geophysical and geological setting of the deposit, including a map of the deposit’s subsurface extent, to help land-use managers evaluate sites for further exploration. The report was recently published in the Geological Society of America’s online journal, Geosphere.
Rare earth elements (REEs) are critical to emerging industrial technologies including strategic defense, science and medical, automotive and transportation, and civilian electronics. However, large economic REE sources are unique and uncommon worldwide. International concerns about increasing demand and global supply vulnerability have prompted many countries, including the U.S., to explore and assess domestic REE resources. Increased efforts to characterize geologic processes related to REE deposits in the U.S. have focused attention on the world-class Mountain Pass, California, deposit located approximately 60 miles southwest of Las Vegas, Nevada.
In their study, collaborators K.M. Denton and USGS colleagues use geophysical and geological techniques to image geologic structures related to REE mineral-bearing rocks at depth. Their work suggests REE minerals occur along a fault zone or geologic contact near the eastern edge of the Mescal Range. These findings could prove as a useful guide to future exploration efforts.
The recent threats by Beijing to cut off American access to critical mineral imports has many Americans wondering why our politicians have allowed the United States to become so overly-dependent on China for these valued resources in the first place.
Today, the United States is 90 percent dependent on China and Russia for many vital “rare earth minerals.”
The main reason for our over-reliance on nations like China for these minerals is not that we are running out of these resources here at home. The U.S. Mining Association estimates that we have at least $5 trillion of recoverable mineral resources.
The U.S. Geological Survey reports that we still have up to 86 percent or more of key mineral resources like copper and zinc remaining in the ground, waiting to be mined.
These resources aren’t on environmentally sensitive lands, like national parks, but on the millions of acres of federal, state and private lands.
The mining isn’t happening because of extremely prohibitive environmental rules and a permitting process that can take 5-10 years to open a new mine. Green groups simply resist almost all new drilling.
What they may not realize is that the de facto mining prohibitions jeopardize the “Green Energy Revolution” that liberals so desperately are seeking.
How is this for rich irony: To make renewable energy at all technologically plausible, will require massive increases in the supply of rare earth and critical minerals.
Production from world uranium mines now supplies 90% of the requirements of power utilities.
Primary production from mines is supplemented by secondary supplies, formerly most from ex-military material but now the products of recycling and stockpiles built up in times of reduced demand.
World mine production has expanded significantly since about 2005.
All mineral commodity markets tend to be cyclical, i.e. prices rise and fall substantially over the years, but with these fluctuations superimposed on long-term trend decline in real prices, as technological progress reduces production cost at mines. In the uranium market, however, high prices in the late 1970s gave way to depressed prices in the whole of the period of the 1980s and 1990s, with spot prices below the cost of production for all but the lowest cost mines. Spot prices recovered from 2003 to 2009, but have been weak since then.
The quoted spot prices through to about 2007 applied only to day-to-day marginal trading and represented a small portion of supply, though since 2008 the proportion has approximately doubled, to about one-quarter in the last decade. Most trade is via 3-15 year term contracts with producers selling directly to utilities at a significantly higher price than the spot market, reflecting the security of supply.* The specified price in these contracts is, however, often related to the spot price at the time of delivery. However, as production has risen much faster than demand, fewer long-term contracts are being written.
Using 100-year-old minerals processing methods, chemical engineering students have found a solution to a looming 21st-century problem: how to economically recycle lithium ion batteries.
Pan, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Michigan Technological University, earned his graduate degrees in mining engineering. It was his idea to adapt 20th century mining technology to recycle lithium ion batteries, from the small ones in cell phones to the multi-kilowatt models that power electric cars. Pan figured the same technologies used to separate metal from ore could be applied to spent batteries. So he gave his students a crash course in basic minerals processing methods and set them loose in the lab.
A study conducted in mining areas in Asturias by the Animal Ecotoxicity and Biodiversity group led by Dr Pilar Rodriguez, through collaboration between the Department of Zoology and Animal Cellular Biology and that of Genetics, Physical Anthropology and Animal Physiology of the UPV/EHU’s Faculty of Science and Technology, and the Limnology Laboratory at the University of Vigo has enabled progress to be made in this field and has proposed the ecological threshold concentration for 7 metals (cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury, nickel, lead and zinc) and two metalloids (arsenic and selenium). The study included a number of non-contaminated localities belonging to the reference network of the Nalón river basin as well as other highly contaminated ones. This is a basin with a long history of mining activities due to the high levels of metals naturally occurring in its rocks.
America has had its share of oil-centered energy problems and disruptions. Now it faces potential renewable energy and high technology crises, because of its heavy reliance on imports of the rare earth and other strategic minerals that are the essential building blocks for wind turbines, solar panels, computers, smart phones, medical diagnostic devices, night vision goggles, GPS and communication systems, long-life batteries and countless other applications.
La Banque mondiale a présenté le 18 juillet une étude soulignant les énormes besoins de minerais et de métaux associés à la transition « bas carbone » dans le monde. Un aspect souvent ignoré de cette transition.