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Is Innovative Mining for Rare Earth Elements Greening Up?

Rare earth elements (REE) are required in the tech industries. (Screenshot/YouTube)
Rare earth elements (REE) are required in the tech industries. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Green and mining are words that just don’t go together, especially when we are talking about the mining of rare earth elements (REE). These elements are an integral part to our high-tech electronics, including Tomahawk missiles and electric cars.

Elements such as neodymium and dysprosium are contained in clays near the city of Concepcion in concentrations similar to those found in southern China, which has all but cornered global supply until now. The similarities end there, Arturo Albornoz, who heads Activa’s Biolantanidos project, said in an interview with journalist Eduardo Thomson.

Why we need rare earth elements:

Companies in China regularly use a toxic chemical called ammonium sulfate to extract the minerals. This process uses the toxic chemical by pumping it into the ground, then waiting for the chemical to return to the surface with the minerals. This is very damaging to the environment.

But there is a company in Chile that is able to extract the minerals in a more environmentally friendly way.

Biolantanidos’ plan is to “dig out the clay, put it through a tank-leaching process with biodegradable chemicals, and return it cleaned to the ground, replanting pine and eucalyptus trees. It may be laborious, but Albornoz is hoping companies, such as ThyssenKrupp AG, Apple Inc., and Tomahawk cruise missile maker Raytheon Co., will end up paying a premium, knowing their suppliers aren’t destroying the planet,” wrote Bloomberg.

Rare earthenware—4K trailer:

According to mining.com, the rare earth industry is about to experience a clean-versus-dirty battle until now only seen among fuel producers, as a Chilean company is stepping up efforts to grab some of that market in a much greener way than China, the world’s top producer of such elements.

Biolantanidos is taking a huge risk using the assumption that some large companies will buy REE from “clean” mines. They may buy small amounts, but for larger amounts, it will depend on the price against the cheaper supplier.

’60 Minutes’ highlights the importance of rare earth elements:

‘Buyers are certainly willing to take a secure supply chain and green production, but only if pricing is, at worst, no higher than the existing Chinese prices,” analyst Jon Hykawy told Bloomberg.

Companies have been very good at giving the appearance of being environmentally conscious, but when the surface is scratched, there seem to be a lot that are more talk than action. With all that said, Biolantanidos has shown that it can be a world leader in mining for REE.

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