Research focused on rare earth elemants is HOT!

Last month the 10th edition of the famous international conference of Molten slags, fluxes and salts took place in Seattle, Washington, USA. This conference is organized every 4 years by TMS. It is a leading conference for sharing process and mechanistic knowledge in high-temperature processing. This time the focus lay in the field of extractive metallurgy and development of novel materials.

Surprisingly, a lot of presentations were focused on rare earth elements. Investigations varied from recycling possibilities, to thermodynamic studies and molten salt researches. It s very obvious that Rare Earth researches are finding their way into the spotlights and are definitely becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Some examples from presentations are:

  • Electrochemical Recycling of Batteries using Molten oxides and Salts (Zhang Z. et al., Peking University)
  • In situ observation of Rare earth containing precipitated phase crystallization and solidification of CaO-SiO2-Nd2O3 and CaO-SiO2-Nd2O3-P2O5 Melts (Le T.H., KULeuven)
  • Techniques for measuring solubility and electrical conductivity in molten salts (Su S., Boston University)
  • Surface properties of molten fluoride-based salts (T. Villalon, Boston University)
  • etc.

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The contradiction in using green technologies

Dear readers,

One of the main reasons to the increasing applications of rare earth metals is the growing importance of green technologies to save on energy and resources for the sake of the environment. However, as long as no efficient and reliable recycling process is developed, to obtain these rare earths from waste streams, the environmental benefit of such green technologies can be undermined due to the environmental impacts of obtaining rare earths as well as disposing of them.

It is important that with pursuing our dream to green societies and shining futures, we do not make huge sacrifices like what happened to Baotou, China. Baotou is still the world’s biggest supplier of rare earth minerals and today, it’s hell on earth. The winning of rare earth metals is a classic example to show that the cost of destroying the environment is very low in China.

The Toxic Lake of Black Sludge in Baotou

The Toxic Lake of Black Sludge in Baotou

With this blog entry I wanted to draw attention to the fact that we are not only trying to find a way to conquer the shortage of these materials in Europe but in one way or another we are also saving the environment by lowering the need of mining rare earth metals!

More information and insights to this problematic can be find through following links.

http://science.opposingviews.com/rare-earth-metals-green-technology-23284.html

http://www.news.com.au/travel/world-travel/asia/baotou-is-the-worlds-biggest-supplier-of-rare-earth-minerals-and-its-hell-on-earth/news-story/371376b9893492cfc77d23744ca12bc5

http://www.nrc.nl/handelsblad/2014/06/28/kanker-en-gif-de-prijs-van-zeldzame-metalen-in-ch-1394188