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posted by janrinok on Monday January 23 2023, @05:23AM   Printer-friendly
from the I-can-pull-Rare-Earth-from-my-album-collection dept.

Rare earth elements could be pulled from coal waste:

In Appalachia's coal country, researchers envision turning toxic waste into treasure. The pollution left behind by abandoned mines is an untapped source of rare earth elements.

Rare earths are a valuable set of 17 elements needed to make everything from smartphones and electric vehicles to fluorescent bulbs and lasers. With global demand skyrocketing and China having a near-monopoly on rare earth production — the United States has only one active mine — there's a lot of interest in finding alternative sources, such as ramping up recycling.

Pulling rare earths from coal waste offers a two-for-one deal: By retrieving the metals, you also help clean up the pollution.

Long after a coal mine closes, it can leave a dirty legacy. When some of the rock left over from mining is exposed to air and water, sulfuric acid forms and pulls heavy metals from the rock. This acidic soup can pollute waterways and harm wildlife.

Recovering rare earths from what's called acid mine drainage won't single-handedly satisfy rising demand for the metals, acknowledges Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute in Morgantown. But he points to several benefits.

Unlike ore dug from typical rare earth mines, the drainage is rich with the most-needed rare earth elements. Plus, extraction from acid mine drainage also doesn't generate the radioactive waste that's typically a by-product of rare earth mines, which often contain uranium and thorium alongside the rare earths. And from a practical standpoint, existing facilities to treat acid mine drainage could be used to collect the rare earths for processing. "Theoretically, you could start producing tomorrow," Ziemkiewicz says.

From a few hundred sites already treating acid mine drainage, nearly 600 metric tons of rare earth elements and cobalt — another in-demand metal — could be produced annually, Ziemkiewicz and colleagues estimate.

Related: Sweden Finds Largest-Ever Rare Earth Metal Deposit In Europe

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Sweden Finds Largest-Ever Rare Earth Metal Deposit In Europe 14 comments

Sweden Finds Largest-Ever Rare Earth Metal Deposit In Europe:

Rare earth elements are vital to a green energy future because you can't build batteries and other EV components without them. That's a problem for Europe, which has no rare earth mining operations. That could be changing, though. Government-run mining firm LKAB has reported the largest rare earth mineral deposit ever discovered in Europe.

In 2022, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted that European mining of rare earth metals, as well as lithium, would soon be more important than oil and gas. According to LKAB, the north of Sweden is home to 1 million metric tons of rare earth oxides. These elements, the names of which you probably don't hear often, have a huge number of applications. For example, Yttrium is used in battery cathodes, lasers, and camera lenses. Neodymium is used for magnets, more lasers, and capacitors.

[...] LKAB cautions that it's too early to tell China to take its mountains of rare earth minerals someplace else. The Per Geijer deposit, which sits in and around the town of Kiruna, has only just been identified. It will take several more years of exploration to determine the full extent of the deposit, and then there's the long process of getting mining permits. Some residents of Kiruna have also expressed concern about how mining will affect the region, and that could further slow the process of getting the minerals out of the ground and into the supply chain. LKAB currently expects it will be 10-15 years before any mining operation could be up and running.

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  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Monday January 23 2023, @04:06PM (1 child)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday January 23 2023, @04:06PM (#1288195) Journal

    The scheme would provide valuable metals and help clean up coal mining’s dirty legacy

    Is this more or less likely to succeed as an investment than cryptocurrency? Asking for a friend.

    Is this extraction process like trying to extract the beautiful small minimal subset treasure hiding in the vast r7rs?

    It seems there must be some major downside; and the article is not forthcoming with it. Does it leave behind something even worse than the pollution one started with? Does it require vast amounts of energy or some catalysts that cost more than the end product, or something else? I just have trouble believing in rainbows and unicorns (excepting of course Rev 21 & 22).

    With modern TVs you don't have to worry about braking the yolk on the back of the picture tube.
    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by higuita on Tuesday January 24 2023, @12:54AM

      by higuita (2465) on Tuesday January 24 2023, @12:54AM (#1288277)

      No knowing exactly the process, but reading the article it seems that it is mostly water treatment... so lots cheaper than digging a whole mountain, breaking the rock, dissolve it and wash it and reach the same spot, a a water with "high" level of rare earth elements
      After this, you will try to concentrate it more and add chemicals to precipitate ( reaction to create a new compost that isn't soluble in water and drops down from water) each element, in a way to isolate each of the needed ending elements. still lot of chemicals and possible energy, but this is shared by both.
      Notice that you get a few grams of rare earth elements for each tonne of rock, so a huge mining and rock break down operation.

      So if this is true, you basically can save LOT of cost of mining and have just pumps to get water out from mines. This is one of the reason why china is the major producer, mining is expensive and destroying a mountain have environmental cost and local population opposition. China can use their very cheap labor and have mostly no environmental worries and almost no local opposition for the "nation important projects". That is also why you get some important elements from africa (like cobalt) and remote locations (like lithium from remote parts of Chile), both mostly cheap labor, no opposition and many times, weak environmental worries)

      There are many places with rare earth components, but having that cost effective is hard, add environmental safe and it gets much harder.
      This may really help, as long as the output water is not much worse than the input water

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by MrGuy on Monday January 23 2023, @04:31PM (3 children)

    by MrGuy (1007) on Monday January 23 2023, @04:31PM (#1288199)

    is the cost and impact of doing that recovery. Is it economically or ecologically viable? Do we create more waste, and is it harmful? How much energy is used? How much equipment? Valuable catalysts? What does it cost, and how does it compare to the cost of mining?

    A kilogram of used cell phones contains more gold than a kilogram of gold ore. But that fact in itself doesn't make mining e-waste for gold a good idea. What happens to all the things that AREN'T gold in the cell phones?

    • (Score: 2) by higuita on Tuesday January 24 2023, @01:08AM

      by higuita (2465) on Tuesday January 24 2023, @01:08AM (#1288280)

      see my above reply

      also notice that people do recycle old computer and get money of it... usually recovered gold pays the initial cost, platinum pays the time and work, other multiple cheaper components usually are the profit... so no, you don't get rich, but it is usually profit...
      the major problem is the initial cost, while many times ending in the trash, trying to get those parts usually have a somewhat high cost, so it is a stupid cycle that it costs too much to buy to recycle, but as there is no recycle, ends in the trash... just like people asking stupid amount of money for a rent, but as it is so expensive, they can't rent it, getting no money anyway. This is one thing that the governments may need to act and force prices and collect and distribution centers, to end the chicken and egg problem
      So one of the main problems of "mining" e-waste is getting enough quantity of that e-waste, specially at a reasonable cost

      Finally, as most cell phones are (again) build on china, there is also the cost of selling those recycled components back to china, they will just buy their own internal production and only buy externally if really needed... but they also favor their own externally working mining companies

    • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Tuesday January 24 2023, @01:11AM

      by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday January 24 2023, @01:11AM (#1288281)

      You ask some pertinent questions.

      On the plus side, they're looking to create a profit center in waste management.

      One of the benefits of reprocessing waste is that *something* already needed to be done about it - whether that's just hauling it to the dump, more expensive water treatment downstream, or more expensive health problems because you didn't.

      Play your cards right, and you can actually get paid for waste disposal in addition to selling whatever you're producing. At it's best that can deliver cheaper waste disposal, cheaper product X, *and* turn a tidy profit off a technology that might not (yet?) be cheap enough to do either job cost effectively on its own.

      I mean, he's literally talking about extracting heavy metals from highly toxic mining sludge otherwise destined to (eventually) enter the water supply. Producing even nastier waste as a byproduct? It's not impossible... but you'd have to be trying pretty hard.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 25 2023, @02:55AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 25 2023, @02:55AM (#1288475)

      A kilogram of used cell phones contains more gold than a kilogram of gold ore. But that fact in itself doesn't make mining e-waste for gold a good idea. What happens to all the things that AREN'T gold in the cell phones?

      Actually the mining stuff makes sense IF you manage to get a LOT of ewaste in the same spot so that using mining machines etc become worth it. But it has to be a HUGE mountain of ewaste. Just a ton or ten is nothing.

      Remember- there's lots of other stuff around too that isn't gold when they're doing conventional mining for gold. Probably even less valuable. In contrast ewaste has higher concentrations of copper, silver, platinum not just gold.

      So sort and landfill huge amounts of similar stuff together and future generations may be grateful to us for producing such nice rich deposits.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 24 2023, @03:08AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 24 2023, @03:08AM (#1288298)

    china contracts tying up rare earth mining and processing around the world

    there are chinese executives who have to use the same solid gold chopsticks twice in the same month

    please someone stop this plan please please think of the economy thank you