An international team of researchers says global resource governance and sharing of geoscience data is needed to address future mineral supply, according to an article on ScienceDaily.com. The study focuses on technology minerals, which include rare earth elements (REEs), as well as base metals like copper.
The January 2016 U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries report revealed there is currently an excess supply of rare earth elements. However, the researchers reviewed data and demand forecasts on the sustainability of global mineral supplies in coming decades, taking into account the vast amounts of metals and minerals that will be required to manufacture clean technologies, and determined that neither mining exploration nor recycling will be able to meet future demand. The report also explains that because rare earth metals and other technology minerals are sold through individual dealers, prices can vary remarkably. Furthermore, developing a rare earth mineral deposit from exploration and discovery to mining takes 10-15 years, and only 10% of early exploration efforts actually lead to minable, economically viable deposits.
The research team maintains that international coordination is needed on where to focus exploration investment efforts, what kind of minerals are likely to be found in different locations, and what kind of bilateral agreements are needed between various countries. The study is published in Nature.
Finding the best deposits, whether it’s for base metals or strategic metals, has always been a challenge for the mining industry but especially so for REEs. Rare earth metals are sparsely distributed in the Earth’s crust and are usually mined as by-products of precious and base metals mining. REEs are usually concentrated in more than one mineral, and each mineral requires a different, costly extraction and processing technology. Depending on the REE project type, portable XRF analyzers are useful instruments that can provide real-time, on-site assays of REEs and other elements in any type of geological samples. XRF instruments are able to analyze the light series of REEs (LREEs), including lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), and neodymium (Nd). Other elements associated with REE-bearing minerals such as thorium (Th) and Yttriym (Y) can also be analyzed. By using the concentrations from these elements, especially Y, it is possible to infer concentrations of heavy REEs (HREEs) that are commonly associated with Y-containing host minerals.