Chinese scientists make key breakthroughs in rare earth mining

2023-09-18 08:54:34Global Times Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

A team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences reveled major breakthroughs in rare earth mining on a meeting on Sunday. The discoveries will helpshorten mining time by about 70 percent, reduce the impurity content by 70 percent and increases the recovery rate of rare earths by about 30 percent.

The findings were made by He Hongping's team from the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences. They presented the research results at a scientific evaluation meeting in Meizhou City, South China's Guangdong Province.

This new mining technology is mainly applied to the mining of weathered crust rare earth ores, a characteristic resource in China. It aims to solve the problems of present in-situ leaching technology in ecology, resource efficiency, and to promote efficient and green utilization of rare earth resources in China.

Professor He's team creatively developed a new way of using electric currents to extract rare earth elements (REEs), compared to traditional methods which uses ammonium chloride as leaching agents to extract REEs. The new technology is more environmental friendly as it avoids soil contamination caused by leaching agents, which responded to Chinese government's demand for environmental protection and green and efficient mining.

With a 5,000-ton earth-moving scale demonstration area, professor He's team was able to test his findings on soil and achieved design outcomes on the ground. This key technology and its results have helped He's team publish 11 high-level papers in journals such as Nature Sustainability, and to obtain 7 patents for inventions. Citing a report from Nature Sustainability, Anouk Borst, a geologist at KU Leuven called the strategy "A game changer, providing that it is feasible on a large scale."

At the evaluation meeting, experts of the Evaluation Committee listened to the report of the He's team, reviewed the relevant information and visited the demonstration site. After discussion and deliberation, the Evaluation Committee unanimously agreed that He's finding is a World-Class technology.

Through years of efforts, China has formed a complete industrial chain around REEs. In 2022, China accounted for 63 percent of the world's rare-earth mining, 85 percent of rare-earth processing, and 92 percent of rare-earth magnet production, according to Politico.

The new rare-earth extraction technology could increase China's advantage in rare-earth sectors by making the extraction process greener and more efficient. The strategy could help China keep its leading position in the global rare-earth industrial chain.

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