Rare earths are a group of chemically similar minerals that are used in the manufacturing of such things as flat-screen televisions, components used in electric cars, smartphones, and other high-tech products. In addition, these elements are essential in many of the new clean energy technologies including wind turbines and energy-efficient light bulbs.
Contrary to the name, rare earths minerals are not truly rare. And rather than being dirt, as the name implies, rare earths are metals. China mines up to 97 percent of the world’s supply of rare earths, and not surprisingly, this has resulted in significant trade issues. Concerns related to finding alternative supplies include problems related to pollution created when mining and processing the minerals. The goal is to find eco-friendly methods; which is not necessarily a goal of producers in China.
Ending the Monopoly and Going Green
Because China has a monopoly on the supply of rare earths, they also have advantages when it comes to prices. Innovative companies like Lynas Mining Corporation are making great strides in changing this situation. This company has a mine in Mount Weld, Australia and a processing plant where rare earths deposits are refined in Gebeng, Kuantan – Malaysia.
This plant has been plagued with many challenges. Rallies and street protests about radiation concerns, regulatory issues and other testing situations have forced the mining company to be creative and inventive. In working diligently to develop green-friendly mining methods the company has met each of these challenges head on.
Lynas is not alone in its efforts. Another mining company moving forward in an eco-friendly way is Molycorp. This is an American company, which owns the Mountain Pass rare earths mine in California.
These and other cutting-edge rare earths mining companies work to harvest the minerals in the most environmentally friendly ways possible. Progressive methods developed by innovative mining companies may soon modernize the way rare earths are mined worldwide, revolutionizing the entire industry.
All types of mining are considered damaging to the earth in one way or another. In mining rare earths minerals a huge basin is dug into the earth’s surface. This alone is a cause for concern. In addition, the refinery process results in low-level radioactive waste that must be disposed of. Even though the radioactive waste is low-level, it must be given careful consideration and disposed of in as safe a manner as possible.
Working to find environmentally friendly solutions to these issues is a top priority for regulatory agencies and for the companies that mine the elements. Fortunately, leaders in the industry are dedicated to the cause and much progress has been made in recent years.
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