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Rare earth and the key drivers of their ecological performance

: Graf, Roberta; Held, Michael; Wehner, Daniel; Baumann, Michael; Ilg, Robert; Krieg, Hannes

China International Conference Center for Science and Technology -CICCST-, Beijing:
26th International Conference on Efficiency, Cost, Optimization, Simulation and Environmental Impact of Energy Systems, ECOS 2013. Proceedings : Guilin, China, 16 July 2013 through 19 July 2013
Beijing: CICCST, 2013
8 pp.
International Conference on Efficiency, Cost, Optimization, Simulation and Environmental Impact of Energy Systems (ECOS) <26, 2013, Guilin>
Conference Paper
Fraunhofer IBP ()

Rare earth are crucial for many future technologies. An increasing demand is therefore predicted. Since future technologies are often also Green Technologies for instance wind turbines, a life cycle assessment approach on the metals is particularly interesting, for example to allow a proper comparison of new and conventional techniques. To meet the demand of a growing market while breaking the Chinese monopoly of the critical materials, new mining projects focused on rare earths are tackled worldwide. Through an analysis of time-frames and processes of new mining endeavors as well as an intensive research of different deposits the most promising projects can be identified. Using those information possible production scenarios are developed and reviewed via a worst respectively a best case analysis. Based on a literature research the most influential factors are elaborated and a method is developed to estimate future environmental profiles of rare earths. Through the compilation of a generic model for the extraction of neodymium-oxide from monazite using the software GaBi, a significant share of the future production can be covered from a life cycle assessment point of view. The process steps mining, beneficiation and separation into the individual rare earths elements are accounted. The model which was original created for neodymium-oxide can later on be easily modified for other members of the group. Through adjustment of the relevant parameters, like country specific energy provision, type of mining, allocation method, Rare Earth Oxide -grade (REO-grade) and neodymium-grade, the developed production scenarios can be used to represent possible future environmental profiles of neodymium-oxide. The results of the study show a strong influence of the REOgrades. Moreover the current investigation indicates that the grade of the individual rare earths are less influential. Further examination using combined mass and market price allocation might gain more insights but appear to be difficult due to current data on ore breakdown. Besides the REO-grade, the country specific energy mix contributes significantly to the environmental profile of Neodymium-oxide production. All analysed future scenarios show a reduction of environmental impacts. Reductions of 10 to 30 percent are achieved. With a more realistic representation of Chinese processes those reduction potentials could even increase.