Researchers from Trinity College Dublin have shed new light on the creation of a rare earth mineral that is in great demand worldwide for use in the green energy and technology industries.
The discovery has important economic implications as there are no alternatives to these rare earth elements (REEn), which are essential because of their ability to produce small and powerful magnets that are essential for smart devices and energy generation. low carbon (eg, electronics, wind turbines, hybrid cars).
Most REEs are exploited in carbonatite deposits (the most well-known carbonatite is the Bayat Obo in China), but scientists are still debating how and why. forming because of their complex mineralogy, element shape and geological history.
There are over 250 miners identified by REE, but only three of them are economically viable and commercially used. Bastnäsite is arguably the most valuable miner for REES in the world and was instrumental in the exploration of the Trinity team.
By considering how water in which REEs interacted with calcite, a mineral that is ubiquitous in nature and often present in hydrothermal environments, the team discovered a new pathway by which bastnäsite was created. .
Adrienn Maria Szucs, PhD Candidate, Trinity, is the first author of the study, published by the international journal Crystal Growth & Design. She said:
“The fact that we need more REE persuades us to find out more about the geochemical behavior of these valuable elements. Quite simply, we need to know a lot more about REEn, and how and why they shape, if we want more of them.
“The crystalline pathway we have discovered suggests that the origin of bastnäsite may be directly the result of the interaction of calcite with rare earth liquids. This is not the only reaction that creates bastnäsite but the finding is particularly important as calcite is ubiquitous and is also the most stable calcium carbonate in nature, which suggests that it should be able to support for the creation of bastnäsite under the right conditions. “
The Principal Investigator is Juan Diego Rodriguez-Blanco, Ussher Associate Professor of Nanomineralogy at Trinity, and a funded researcher at the Irish Center for Research in Applied Geology (iCRAG). He said:
“The use of REEn for high-tech products has continued to grow over the years, so the demand for them is also burning up. This has created important geopolitical competition as many REEs have very valuable growth.
“Unfortunately, the production and modernization of REEn is both financially and environmentally expensive, so work like this is important for developing our understanding of bastnäsite creation techniques. , which in turn helps us to improve existing extraction and cooling methods. ”
This research was supported by funding from the Trinity Provost Awards, Science Foundation Ireland, Geological Survey of Ireland and the Environmental Protection Agency under the SFI Boundaries Program for the Future, and by the MetalIntelligence Research and Innovation Program project Horizon 2020.
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