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)
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.
La géologie, une science plus que passionnante … et diverse