REE – Rare Earth Elements and their Uses

REE – Rare Earth Elements and their Uses

The demand for rare earth elements has grown rapidly, but their occurrence in minable deposits is limited.


This chart shows a history of rare earth element production, in metric tons of rare earth oxide equivalent, between 1950 and 2015. It clearly shows the United States’ entry into the market in the mid-1960s when color television exploded demand. When China began selling rare earths at very low prices in the late-1980s and early-1990s, mines in the United States were forced to close because they could no longer make a profit. When China cut exports in 2010, rare earth prices skyrocketed. That motivated new production in the United States, Australia, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries.


What Are Rare Earth Elements (REEs)?

Rare earth elements are a group of seventeen chemical elements that occur together in the periodic table (see image at right). The group consists of yttrium and the 15 lanthanide elements (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium). Scandium is found in most rare earth element deposits and is sometimes classified as a rare earth element. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry includes scandium in their rare earth element definition.

The rare earth elements are all metals, and the group is often referred to as the “rare earth metals.” These metals have many similar properties and that often causes them to be found together in geologic deposits. They are also referred to as “rare earth oxides” because many of them are typically sold as oxide compounds.
Uses of Rare Earth Elements

Rare earth metals and alloys that contain them are used in many devices that people use every day such as computer memory, DVDs, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, magnets, fluorescent lighting and much more.

During the past twenty years, there has been an explosion in demand for many items that require rare earth metals. Twenty years ago there were very few cell phones in use, but the number has risen to over 7 billion in use today. The use of rare earth elements in computers has grown almost as fast as cell phones.

United States Usage
(2015 data from USGS)
Chemical Catalysts 60%
Metallurgy & Alloys 10%
Ceramics and Glass Making 10%
Glass Polishing 10%
Other 10%

Many rechargeable batteries are made with rare earth compounds. Demand for the batteries is being driven by demand for portable electronic devices such as cell phones, readers, portable computers, and cameras.

Several pounds of rare earth compounds are in batteries that power every electric vehicle and hybrid-electric vehicle. As concerns for energy independence, climate change and other issues drive the sale of electric and hybrid vehicles, the demand for batteries made with rare earth compounds will climb even faster.

Rare earths are used as catalysts, phosphors, and polishing compounds. These are used for air pollution control, illuminated screens on electronic devices, and the polishing of optical-quality glass. All of these products are expected to experience rising demand.

Other substances can be substituted for rare earth elements in their most important uses; however, these substitutes are usually less effective and costly.

From the 1950s until the early 2000s, cerium oxide was a very popular lapidary polish. It was inexpensive and very effective. The recent price increases have almost eliminated the use of cerium oxide in rock tumbling and the lapidary arts. Other types of polish, such as aluminum and titanium oxide, are now used in its place.
Critical Defense Uses

Rare earth elements play an essential role in our national defense. The military uses night-vision goggles, precision-guided weapons, communications equipment, GPS equipment, batteries and other defense electronics. These give the United States military an enormous advantage. Rare earth metals are key ingredients for making the very hard alloys used in armored vehicles and projectiles that shatter upon impact.

Substitutes can be used for rare earth elements in some defense applications; however, those subsitutes are usually not as effective and that diminishes military superiority. Several uses of rare earth elements are summarized in the table below (5).

Defense Uses of Rare Earth Elements
Lanthanum night-vision goggles
Neodymium laser range-finders, guidance systems, communications
Europium fluorescents and phosphors in lamps and monitors
Erbium amplifiers in fiber-optic data transmission
Samarium permanent magnets that are stable at high temperatures
Samarium precision-guided weapons
Samarium “white noise” production in stealth technology


Are These Elements Really “Rare”?

Rare earth elements are not as “rare” as their name implies. Thulium and lutetium are the two least abundant rare earth elements – but they each have an average crustal abundance that is nearly 200 times greater than the crustal abundance of gold (1). However, these metals are very difficult to mine because it is unusual to find them in concentrations high enough for economical extraction.

The most abundant rare earth elements are cerium, yttrium, lanthanum and neodymium (2). They have average crustal abundances that are similar to commonly used industrial metals such as chromiumnickelzinc, molybdenum, tin, tungsten andlead (1). Again, they are rarely found in extractable concentrations.
History of Rare Earth Production and Trade


Before 1965 there was relatively little demand for rare earth elements. At that time, most of the world’s supply was being produced from placer deposits in India and Brazil. In the 1950s, South Africa became the leading producer from rare earth bearingmonazite deposits. At that time, the Mountain Pass Mine in California was producing minor amounts of rare earth oxides from a Precambrian carbonatite.

Color Television Ignites Demand

The demand for rare earth elements saw its first explosion in the mid-1960s, as the first color television sets were entering the market. Europium was the essential material for producing the color images. The Mountain Pass Mine began producing europium from bastnasite, which contained about 0.1% europium. This effort made the Mountain Pass Mine the largest rare earth producer in the world and placed the United States as the leading producer.

China Enters the Market

China began producing noteable amounts of rare earth oxides in the early 1980s and became the world’s leading producer in the early 1990s. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, China steadily strengthened its hold on the world’s rare earth oxide market. They were selling rare earths at such low prices that the Mountain Pass Mine and many others throughout the world were unable to compete and stopped operation.

Defense and Consumer Electronics Demand

At the same time, world demand was skyrocketing as rare earth metals were designed into a wide variety of defense, aviation, industrial and consumer electronics products. China capitalized on its dominant position and began restricting exports and allowing rare earth oxide prices to rise to historic levels.

China as the Largest Rare Earth Consumer

In addition to being the world’s largest producer of rare earth materials, China is also the dominant consumer. They use rare earths mainly in manufacturing electronics products for domestic and export markets. Japan and the United States are the second and third largest consumers of rare earth materials. It is possible that China’s reluctance to sell rare earths is a defense of their value-added manufacturing sector.

China’s Apex of Production Dominance?

The Chinese dominance may have peaked in 2010 when they controlled about 95% of the world’s rare earth production and prices for many rare earth oxides had risen over 500% in just a few years. That was an awakening for rare earth consumers and miners throughout the world. Mining companies in the United States, Australia, Canada and other countries began to reevaluate old rare earth prospects and explore for new ones.

High prices also caused manufacturers to do three things: 1) seek ways to reduce the amount of rare earth elements needed to produce each of their products; 2) seek alternative materials to use in place of rare earth elements; and, 3) develop alternative products that do not require rare earth elements.

This effort has resulted in a decline in the amounts of rare earth materials used in some types of magnets and a shift from rare earth lighting products to light-emitting diode technology. In the United States, the average consumption of rare earths per unit of manufactured product has decreased but the demand for more products manufactured with rare earth elements has increased. The result has been higher consumption.

China Buying Resources Outside of China

Chinese companies have been purchasing rare earth resources in other countries. In 2009 China Non-Ferrous Metal Mining Company bought a majority stake in Lynas Corporation, an Australian company that has one of the highest outputs of rare earth elements outside of China. They also purchased the Baluba Mine in Zambia.

Rare Earth Production Outside of China

Mines in Australia began producing rare earth oxides in 2011. In 2012 and 2013 they were supplying about 2% to 3% of world production. In 2012, the Mountain Pass Mine came back into production and the United States produced about 4% of the world’s rare earth elements in 2013. India has been producing about 3% of the world’s supply for the past decade. Indonesia, Russia, Nigeria, North Korea, Malaysia, and Vietnam are minor producers [3].

As of 2013 rare earth assessments were underway in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Greenland, India, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, and Vietnam [2]. Some of these might result in additional production.

The United States Geological Survey estimates that although China is the world-leader in rare earth production they only control about 50% of the world’s reserves. This provides an opportunity for other countries to become important producers now that China is not selling rare earth materials below the cost of production.

Dangers of a Dominant World Producer

Supply and demand normally determine the market price of a commodity. As supplies shrink, prices go up. As prices go higher, those who control the supply are tempted to sell. Mining companies see high prices as an opportunity and attempt to develop new sources of supply.

With rare earth elements, the time between a mining company’s decision to acquire a property and the start of production can be several years or longer. There is no fast way to open a new mining property.

If a single country controls almost all of the production and makes a firm decision not to export, then the entire supply of a commodity can be quickly cut off. That is a dangerous situation when new sources of supply take so long to develop.

In 2010 China significantly restricted their rare earth exports. That was done to ensure a supply of rare earths for domestic manufacturing and for environmental reasons. This shift by China triggered panic buying and some rare earth prices shot up exponentially. In addition, Japan, the United States, and the European Union complained to the World Trade Organization about China’s restrictive rare earth trade policies.
World Rare Earth Mineral Resources

“Rare earths are relatively abundant in the Earth’s crust, but discovered minable concentrations are less common than for most other ores. U.S. and world resources are contained primarily in bastnäsite and monazite. Bastnäsite deposits in China and the United States constitute the largest percentage of the world’s rare-earth economic resources, while monazite deposits in Australia, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the United States constitute the second largest segment.

Apatite, cheralite, eudialyte, loparite, phosphorites, rare-earth-bearing (ion adsorption) clays, secondary monazite, spent uranium solutions, and xenotime make up most of the remaining resources. Undiscovered resources are thought to be very large relative to expected demand.” Quoted from the United States Geological Survey’s Mineral Commodity Summary (2).
Rare Earth Element Outlook

The global demand for automobiles, consumer electronics, energy-efficient lighting, and catalysts is expected to rise rapidly over the next decade. Rare earth magnet demand is expected to increase, as is the demand for rechargeable batteries. New developments in medical technology are expected to increase the use of surgical lasers, magnetic resonance imaging, and positron emission tomography scintillation detectors.

Rare earth elements are heavily used in all of these industries, so the demand for them should remain high.


REE Periodic Table: The Rare Earth Elements are the 15 lanthanide series elements, plus yttrium. Scandium is found in most rare earth element deposits and is sometimes classified as a rare earth element. Image by


The rare earth elements are often subdivided into “Heavy Rare Earths” and “Light Rare Earths.” Lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium and samarium are the “light rare earths.” Yttrium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium are the “heavy rare earths.” Although yttrium is lighter than the light rare earth elements, it is included in the heavy rare earth group because of its chemical and physical associations with heavy rare earths in natural deposits.


This chart shows the use of rare earth elements in the United States during 2013. Many vehicles use rare earth catalysts in their exhaust systems for air pollution control. A large number of alloys are made more durable by the addition of rare earth metals. Glass, granite, marble and gemstones are often polished with cerium oxide powder. Many motors and generators contain magnets made with rare earth elements. Phosphors used in digital displays, monitors and televisions are created with rare earth oxides. Most computer, cell phone and electric vehicle batteries are made with rare earth metals.


 pic Did You Know? Most of the scandium used in the United States goes into aluminum-alloy baseball bats and other sports equipment (3). Scandium is also used in semiconductors and specialty lighting.


Rare Earth Element Maprare-earth-element-map-380

In 2013, China produced about 90% of the world’s supply of rare earth element ores. The USGS Mineral Commodity Summary (2) reported production tonnages for Australia, the United States, India, Brazil, Russia, Vietnam and Malaysia. Rare earth element exploration and/or development is being done in Canada, South Africa, Thailand, Malawi, and Sri Lanka; however, production from those countries was insignificant during 2013.


This chart shows China’s dominance in the production of rare earth elements between 1994 and 2012. The United States was a significant producer through the early 1990s, but low-priced materials being sold by China forced mines in the United States and other countries out of operation. As China limited exports and prices increased rapidly in 2009 and 2010, mines in Australia and the United States became active again. Graph by using data from the United States Geological Survey.


World Mine Production and Reserves (2015 Estimates)
Country Production (Metric Ton) Reserves (Metric Ton)
United States 4,100 1,800,000
Australia 10,000 3,200,000
Brazil 22,000,000
China 105,000 55,000,000
India 3,100,000
Russia 2,500 ?
Thailand 2,100 not available
Malaysia 200 30,000
Other countries not available 41,000,000
World total (rounded) 110,000 140,000,000


wind-turbine Did You Know? Rare earth magnets are used in wind turbines. Some large turbines require two TONS of rare earth magnets. These magnets are very strong and make the turbines highly efficient. Rare earth magnets are used in turbines and generators in many alternative energy applications.


 rare-earth-prices Did You Know? Prices and demand for rare earth materials have risen dramatically over the past decade. China produces about 90% of the supply. Deposits in Australia and the United States are going back into operation, and exploration in many new areas is progressing.


These rare earth oxides are used as tracers to determine which parts of a watershed are eroding (4). Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium. Image by Peggy Greb, USDA image gallery.


oil-battery-car-istock Did You Know? Every hybrid-electric and electric vehicle has a large battery. Each battery is made using several pounds of rare earth compounds. The use of electric vehicles is expected to increase rapidly, driven by energy independence, climate change and other concerns. This will increase the demand for rare earth materials. Image © Mark Stay, iStockphoto.


cell-phones-istock Did You Know? Tiny amounts of rare earth metals are used in most small electronic devices. These devices have a short lifespan, and REE recycling is infrequently done. Billions are thrown away each year. Image © Bakaleev Aleksey, iStockphoto.

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Rare-Earth Market – By monopolizing the mining of rare-earth metals, China could dictate the future of high-tech.

Rare-Earth Market
By monopolizing the mining of rare-earth metals, China could dictate the future of high-tech.

JULY 12, 2016

Most people have no idea what’s in an iPhone. Yttrium and praseodymium don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but they’re part of what make smartphones so small, powerful, and bright. These exotic materials are among the planet’s 17 rare-earth elements, and surprisingly, the soft, silvery metals are not at all rare. But they’re found in tiny concentrations, all mixed together, and usually embedded in hard rock, which makes them difficult — and messy — to isolate. In China, which mines 89 percent of global output, toxic wastes from rare-earth facilities have poisoned water, ruined farmlands, and made people sick.

Beyond high-tech gadgets, rare earths play a critical role in national defense, enabling radar systems and guided missiles. Ironically, they also power clean-energy technologies, such as wind turbines and electric cars. This year, global consumption is expected to be about 155,000 tons, far more than the 45,000 tons used 25 years ago. Demand will only grow — likely at an accelerated pace — as the world tries to rein in climate change.

At the moment, only China can satisfy that hunger. Yet in 2010, Beijing cut rare-earth exports by 40 percent — possibly to boost its high-tech sector — and cut off supplies to Japan over a territorial dispute. Its muscle flexing caused prices to soar, sparking new exploration for rare-earth deposits around the world. A boom in illegal mining in China has since driven prices back down, making it extremely difficult for non-Chinese mines to stay open or get off the ground. Nevertheless, the rest of the world hasn’t given up: There are currently 50 deposits at an advanced stage of development (see map below) that could someday challenge China’s dominance.






Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Note: 2016 production and consumption figures exclude countries that account for less than 1 percent of the total. Measurements are in metric tons. European nations are grouped as a market bloc. Sources: Figures based on current market conditions, opinions of industry experts, and author reporting and analysis. 2016 production/consumption figures are estimates based on data from IMCOA/Curtin University, Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association, China Ministry of Land and Resources, United States Geological Survey, USGS Mineral Commodity Summary, Critical Materials Institute, TMR Advanced Rare-Earth Projects Index. Process waste streams: China Rare Earth Industry Association, The Elements of Power. Future demand: Environmental Science and Technology (“Evaluating Rare Earth Element Availability”).


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India AMCR could hinder mineral sands

India AMCR could hinder mineral sands

Published: Friday, 22 July 2016

In a bid to expedite the auction of atomic mineral resources and reduce its dependency on the import of these minerals, the government of India floated a draft version of the Atomic Minerals Concession Rules (AMCR), 2016 on 11 July 2016, inviting public comments.

The Beach Minerals Producers Association (BMPA) of India subsequently labelled the new act as a threat to the survival of existing miners, accusing it of being based on unscientific assumptions.

The guidelines set under AMCR 2016 specify requirements for the mining of atomic energy minerals – which include beach sand minerals like ilmenite, rutile, zircon, garnet, monazite, leucoxene and sillimanite – which are of high economic value as they are consumed in high-tech industries such as solar panels and hybrid car components.

India’s beach sand mineral reserves occur in an assemblage that generally consists of ilmenite, rutile, zircon, garnet, monazite, leucoxene and sillimanite coexisting with each other. The major mineral in most of these deposits is ilmenite, however the rare earths-bearing mineral monazite is also found in large quantities.

Source: Beach Mineral Producers Association

Monazite is the principal ore mineral for rare earths in India and the country has an estimated reserve of around 12m tonnes monazite in beach sand mineral placer deposits along coastal tracts.

The new rules under AMCR 2016 have raised concerns among India’s private miners, who claim that the proposed changes – mainly pertaining to the minimum threshold limit value (TLV) of monazite set at 0.75% in the total heavy minerals (THM) and mining concession – are likely to restrict private mining and terminate all existing leases that do not meet these criteria.

If implemented, BMPA believes that the beach sand mine deposits with more than 0.75% monazite in the total heavy minerals will be reserved for state-owned companies, in this case Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL) and Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited (KMML), a Kerala government enterprise.

The BMPA argues that the minimum threshold value for monazite is arbitrarily low and will result in around 75% of the total deposit area being reserved for state-owned companies.

According to AMCR 2016 rules, leases of existing operators will be terminated if they are not government organisations in cases where TLVs exceed guidelines.

Speaking to IM, Vaikundarajan Subramanian, vice president of the BMPA and managing director of VV Minerals, who is seeking the removal of the termination clause, said: “The very concept of threshold limit value is unscientific,” but added that a 5% threshold in total heavy minerals would be more appropriate.

V Subramaian
Subramanian, vice president of the BMPA, says that the concept of threshold limit value is unscientific (Source: VV Minerals)

Furthermore, he added that there remains a question over jurisdiction regarding the the atomic mineral mining.

“There is uncertainty in the ministry regarding the jurisdiction of atomic minerals, as the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) falls under the supervision of the prime minister and not the Ministry of Mines, from where the draft has been released. As such, we have appealed to the prime minister, Narendra Modi, to reconsider the proposed guidelines,” Subramanian told IM.

On 14 July 2016, the BMPA appealed to Modi on behalf of private miners, asking for him to hold back the execution of the new AMCR 2016, claiming that the regulations, if implemented in their current form, will impact over 100,000 jobs, further affecting the country’s “Make in India” initiative, which was launched in 2014 by the Indian government as part of a wider set of nation-building initiatives to transform India into a global design and manufacturing hub.

However, Balvinder Kumar, secretary of the Ministry of Mines, said that the ministry has already notified the industry about the AMCR 2016 and is now working to bring out the Exclusive Economic Zone Offshore Concession Rules.

According to the ministry, of the country’s 1,400km2 of atomic mineral-rich area, about 1,000km2 along the coast – where minerals are available below specified thresholds – will be offered for prospecting and production through competitive bids. State agencies will retain rights to operate the remaining 400km2.

The Ministry of Mines believes that the new set of concession rules will bring greater transparency in the case of atomic mineral leases, which will help develop domestic resources and reduce the country’s reliance on imports.

While the private miners await a response on their appeal, Subramanian has specified that the present policy change will be a “U-turn” sending the industry back to the 1950s, as private miners were only allowed to operate after 1988, and the existing state-owned companies have not entered into any value-added projects for these speciality minerals.

India holds a significant share of global  beach sand mineral supply, including 35% of the world’s ilmenite, 40% garnet, 71% monazite, 14% zircon and 10% of worldwide rutile.

Reclassifying minerals

( Source: BMPA)

.Beach sands ilmenite, rutile, zircon, monazite and leucoxene were classified as prescribed substances in the Atomic Energy Act (therefore requiring DAE clearance for production and processing) under the MMDR Act, 1957.However, the BMPA noted that in January 2007, ilmenite, rutile, zircon, monazite and leucoxene were delisted as prescribed substances and the Ministry of Mines was also asked to delist the minerals from their atomic minerals status.

“While the list was revised in the draft MMDR Act 2011, categorising them under ‘beach sand minerals’, the changes were not incorporated into the MMDR Amendment Act 2015, and the minerals continue as ‘atomic minerals’,” Subramanian told IM.

Atomic minerals are generally considered a source of energy, which can provide a substitute for coal, mineral oil and hydro-electricity.

However, as a result of their classification in the AMCR 2016, beach sand miners are concerned about losing their presence in the market.

An unexplored opportunity 

Despite accounting for 30% of global heavy mineral reserves, India accounts for just 4% of the world’s total production. The industry has faced tough competition from low cost Chinese imports, toughening regulations and a lack of investor-friendly policies, making it a difficult territory for further exploration.

And, with 40% of the world’s ilmenite deposits, India currently contributes no more than 6% of world total output, producing more than 1m tonnes ilmenite.

The minerals are predominantly found in five states: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra and there are only six companies operating in the sector, including state-owned IREL.

Subramanian noted that it was only after the poor performance of state-owned IREL that mining of these beach sand minerals was opened up to the private sector, as the company failed to add any value to the product in addition to suffering low production tonnages.

“IREL has three plants, one in the state of Tamil Nadu, one in Odisha and one in Kerala. Apart from Odisha, the two other plants in Kerala and Tamil Nadu are running at less than 30% of installed capacity,” he told IM.

The BMPA secretary believes that the new AMCR rules are part of a government strategy to take away some of the mining land currently being operated by private companies and give the rights to the state-owned companies.

However, Subramanian believes that the government will reconsider the AMCR rules taking into account the fact that it is time to “liberalise” and allow private companies to handle materials like monazite.

“Monazite has about 60% of rare earth minerals, which can bring in another manufacturing revolution in India, aligning with the prime minister’s vision of Make in India,” he said.

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Mining With Plants

Phytomining: Harvesting Germanium May Provide a New Source of this Metal


What do sunflowers, corn, and cell phones have in common? The element Germanium (Ge). This semi-metallic element is widely used in semiconductors incorporated into computers, cell phones, and fiber optic cables. Germanium is also used in smart steering systems and parking sensors because it is transparent in infra-red light. And soon it may be sourced from sunflowers, corn, and other crops.

Germanium is abundant but difficult to mine. Most germanium is recovered as a byproduct of zinc ore (sphalerite) processing, and occasionally from silver, lead, and copper ores. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2016 Germanium Mineral Commodity Summary (, U.S. reserves of zinc may contain as much as 2,500 tons of germanium, but because zinc concentrates are shipped globally and blended at smelters, the recoverable germanium in zinc reserves cannot be determined. On a global scale, as little as 3% of the germanium contained in zinc concentrates is recovered.

Like rare earth elements ( (REEs), most germanium is exported from China, and demand for it is expected to grow. Luckily, scientists at Freiburg University of Mining and Technology may have found an alternative source through phytomining, or “mining with plants.”

According to the Reuters article, Smart phone ingredient found in plant extracts (, certain crops, including sunflowers, corn, reed canary grass, are able to absorb germanium from the soil. And because these plants are already being processed for use as biogas, extracting the germanium may prove economical. One of the scientists working on the project explains, “There is zinc ore present here, the ground is very rich in zinc. We have the remains of waste rock piles from mining, which germanium-rich water can drain better through. And when you cultivate plants here and give them that water, they can build up germanium reserves through normal physiological processes. We unlock these reserves through fermentation with the help of bacteria and thus we are able to mobilize the germanium.”

If it comes to fruition, phytomining will be a vast departure from traditional mining and exploration processes, which may include outcrop and soil analysis, advanced exploration and drilling, core sample analysis, mine mapping, ore trading, grade control, and cuttings analysis for mud logging and reservoir characterization, and oil and gas exploration and production (E&P). Both lab-based and portable XRF solutions ( are making a critical difference in these mining operations, and the Advancing Mining ( blog offers many posts on various applications for these technologies.

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German scientists devise ‘phytomining’ technique to extract rare metals from plants

Humans have been extracting useful materials from plants for millennia, but in the past few years, we’ve gotten particularly good at it. Case in point? German scientists from Freiburg University of Mining and Technology have discovered a way to mine plants for chemicals that can be used for manufacturing and industrial purposes. Biology professor Hermann Heilmeier and industrial chemistry Professor Martin Bertau are spearheading this technique they call “phytomining.” Working together at Freiburg U, the pair have developed a method to harvest germanium, an important metalloid component used in computers, smartphones and fiber-optic cables.

Germanium is found in soils worldwide, but it is hard to mine since it must be extracted from zinc, silver, lead or copper ore. More than 100 tons of germanium are produced annually with China producing the bulk of the global supply. Approximately 35 percent of worldwide germanium comes from recycling efforts that recoup the metal from existing sources. Heilmeier has found a way to circumvent these time-consuming extraction and recycling procedures using nature’s own concentrator, the plant.

Heilmeier grows his plants in a germanium-rich water that is available in waste rock piles at mines. The plants uptake this germanium-laden water and create a natural reserve of the element using the plant’s normal physiological processes. The plants are then harvested and the germanium recovered from the biomass using bacterial fermentation.

To make the process even more economical, the researchers are piggybacking on top of existing biogas plants that grow plants for energy. By growing these energy plants in germanium-rich water, the team creates an affordable source of germanium that can be mined easily after the plants have been used for energy generation. The bulk of the cost of growing and harvesting the plants is covered by the biogas plants, which already are growing the plants for fuel. The final step of germanium recovery is relatively cheap, making germanium phytomining a cost-effective technique.

As it is with most new procedures, there are many hurdles to overcome. For the germanium researchers, they must overcome low yield. Right now, germanium is harvested in minuscule quantities, just a few milligrams of germanium per liter. The team hopes to upscale this process to an industry level where they are working with apparatus capable of handling a 1,000 liters of plant material at a time and producing yields of at least one gram of germanium per liter.
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Brief note about India’s Beach Sand Mineral Industries

A study completed by the Council on Energy ,Environment and Water ( CEEW)  and  the Department of Science and Technology  have identified twelve critical minerals  that   would significantly contribute to the growth of the manufacturing sector  and  success of the Make in India programme. The critical minerals identified in this study report include Rare earth ( heavy and light ) and others like beryllium , germanium ,rhenium , tantalum  etc which find specialized applications in a range of industries covering aerospace ,automobiles ,camera ,defense ,entertainment systems ,laptops , medical imaging , nuclear energy and smartphones.  These critical minerals would also play a role in nurturing the domestic manufacturing capacity to support the government’s low carbon plans such as the 100GW solar target , faster adoption and manufacturing of hybrid and electric vehicles, and the national domestic efficient lighting programme.  Dr Arunabha Ghosh , CEO , CEEW has said “ to meet our economic and developmental goals India will need to first focus on domestic exploration of critical minerals .

Significantly , India possesses 35% of the global reserves of Beach Sand Minerals  (BSM) , an assemblage that generally consists of ilmenite, rutile, zircon, garnet, monazite, leucoxene and sillimanite coexisting with each other.  The major mineral in most of these deposits is ilmenite and the  rare earth minerals occur associated with the monazite.  It is pertinent to note that  until 1998 , this sector was restricted only  to Public sector companies and Indian Rare Earth Limited ( IREL )  was the major player and the production to reserve ratio was a negligible 0.001% compared to global players like Australia with a production to reserve ratio of 0.01%. Realising the potential of the beach sand minerals sector the Department of Atomic Energy ( DAE ) opened up this sector to wholly Indian owned companies which resulted in significant investments  by private sector companies propelling growth in this sector. This resulted in many fold increase in the production of beach sand minerals and the private sector have also invested in value addition to Ilmenite and preliminary works for value addition to Zircon is in progress. Since entry of the private sector , the export value  has substantially increased from Rs 35 crores in 1998 to Rs 4500 crores in 2015 . In 2015 , the production to reserve ratio has improved to 0.0018%  which is an 80% increase.  Out of the 81 mining leases in the BSM sector ,72 leases are with the private sector which amply demonstrates their major participation and significant financial investments  in contributing to the successful growth of this beach sand minerals business in India.

The private sector is keen to expand their business activities to include the rare earth minerals  by developing this valuable resource occurring in the beach sand minerals  and  welcome  the Government’s focus on exploration and development of rare earth minerals. The private sector is willing to collaborate with the CEEW and DST and  participate in the domestic development of these critical rare earth minerals to build our national resource and reduce dependency on imports  for  the valuable materials.

However the  newly introduced Atomic Minerals Concession Rules, 2016, ( which was not there earlier) is draconian and will severely cripple  the private sector business in  BSM industry in the country. The private sector has submitted several representations to the Government and also  to the Honourable Prime Minister  seeking to put in abeyance the implementation of the AMCR 2016 and  requesting the Government to review and  develop a  pragmatic and long term industry friendly policy which will support and maximise private sector participation and contribute to India’s growth as a major global player in the beach sand minerals and rare earth minerals sector. Such a Government initiative will greatly help Find in India these valuable  rare earth minerals  occurring along with the beach sand minerals  and give impetus to  the  Make in India programme .

Rare Earth Minerals – The India Scenario

Rare Earth Minerals – The India Scenario


Published Jul 21, 2016, 12:54 pm IST
Understanding the importance of Rare Earth minerals.
12 minerals, including beryllium, germanium, rare earths (heavy and light), rhenium, tantalum among others, have specialised use in a range of sectors and applications.

 12 minerals, including beryllium, germanium, rare earths (heavy and light), rhenium, tantalum among others, have specialised use in a range of sectors and applications.


Rare Earth minerals have been a crucial topic of discussion for quite some time now. The reason is evidently explained by a study conducted as a result of an initiative by policy research body of Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). The study indicated that these minerals play a key role in nurturing domestic manufacturing that supports government’s low carbon plans especially in sectors such as aerospace, nuclear energy and defense.

But what exactly are Rare Earth minerals? Let’s understand that.

Rare Earth element is a set of 17 chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust and used extensively in consumer products. Due to their productive nature, they play a significant role in maintaining our current lifestyle as well as in the effort of building a strong and sustainable future.

For more information, take a look at the picture below.

Rare Earth minerals infographics.Rare Earth minerals infographic note.

While, China currently dominates the reserves of Rare Earth minerals; India too accounts for 11% of global beach sand mineral deposits or in other words, Rare Earth minerals. Currently, India has a coastline of 7,500 kms. Our deposits contain heavy minerals like ilmenite, rutile, garnet, monazite, zircon and silimanite among others.

In a time and age like ours where evolution seems to be consistently progressing, strategic acquisition of mines and promotion of innovative material recovery sectors must be embraced as our number one priority. India seems to be well underway with that as the process of mining and its applications are a very integral part of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s Make in India campaign.

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Mines Ministry asks DAE to provide data for auction of mines

Mines Ministry asks DAE to provide data for auction of mines

NEW DELHI: Mines Ministry has asked the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to provide the exploration data of areas where the occurrence of atomic minerals is less than the threshold value to expedite auction of such blocks.

The recently unveiled Atomic Mineral Concession Rules (AMCR) 2016 stipulates reserving all BSM (Beach Sand Mine) deposits containing more than 0.75 per cent monazite in the THM (Total Heavy Minerals) for government-owned corporations.

“Mines Ministry has written a letter to the DAE urging it to expedite process of demarcating the area within the limit on a cadastral map and make the data available to states for auction of mineral blocks,” a senior government official said.

Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMDER), unit of DAE, undertakes exploration, establishment and development of atomic minerals in the country.

DAE has also informed the ministry that about 1,000 sq km of area will be available for auctioning to private firms for mining after taking into account the prescribed threshold values for atomic minerals, the official added.

The issue has been hanging fire for some time now as the private beach sand miners have strongly protested fixing of the threshold value for monazite as they claim it will reserve over 75 per cent of the explored area for government firms.

BSM industry says that fixing of the threshold limit value (TLV) for monazite at 0.75 per cent will destroy the sector and have approached the Prime Minister’s Office for intervention.

Beach sand mining generally includes ilmenite, rutile, zircon, garnet, monazite, leucoxene and sillimanite. India possesses around 35 per cent of the world’s BSM reserves.

They claim that if the rules are implemented in the present form, almost all existing private players will be forced to close operations, resulting in huge losses.

Out of the 81 BSM leases in the country, 72 are with the private sector. India’s export of BSM has risen from Rs 35 crore in 1998 to Rs 4,500 crore in 2015.

The industry has urged the PMO to “put in abeyance implementation of the first AMCR, help in facilitating discussions of all stakeholders in the BSM industry, instruct Mines Ministry and DAE to work for the long-term development of the industry”.

It has also said no discussions were held with the industry before finalising the rules.

It is also demanding that TLV be fixed as 5 per cent in THM or 2 per cent in the deposit and the termination clause be totally removed. If required, suitable safeguards may be implemented by DAE, like having a conservation policy for monazite.

MP story on mines ministry

Beach Minerals Producers Association urges PM Modi to put on hold implementation of AMCR

Beach Minerals Producers Association urges PM Modi to put on hold implementation of AMCR

BMPA has urged the PM to put on hold the implementation of the first AMCR, while seeking time from him to discuss threadbare the issues facing the industry. The association has said the rules, if implemented, would to stifle the industry led mainly by private players and lead to a loss of over 1 lakh jobs. These minerals are basic raw materials for developing modern technology products, ranging from mobile phones to electric cars to defense guidance systems. Incidentally, AMCR is a new concept and no such rule existed prior to the MMDR Act Amendment, 2015. There are only two government beach sand mineral players — Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL) and Kerala Minerals and Metals Ltd (KMML).

In a letter to the PM, the association said: “If the AMCR is implemented in its present form, almost all existing private players will be forced to close operations, resulting in huge losses and loss of employment to about 50,000 in areas of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, which are rich in these minerals.

India imported about Rs 4,000 crore worth of BSM and value-added products in 2015 even as private players have been operating. When the draft AMCR was published in April 2016, BMPA represented its e concerns to the Ministry of Mines. Since most BSM mines are located in Tamil Nadu, the state government also represented its problems. However, these issues were not addressed and no discussions were held with stakeholders before finalizing the rules. The mines ministry went ahead and released the AMCR in Raipur on July 4, 2016.

Earlier, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) opened the sector to wholly-owned Indian companies to boost beach sand minerals output, since production to reserve ratio was less than 0.001 with only public sector companies working in this sector. This had led to a manifold increase in production of beach sand minerals. During 2015, India’s production to reserve ratio improved to 0.0018 – an 80% increase. Besides, export value soared from Rs 35 crore in 1998 to Rs 4,500 crore in 2015, resulting in substantial rise in exports.

Out of the 81 BSM mining leases, 72 are with the private sector, which is also in the value addition of ilmenite, with preliminary work for zircon value addition in progress. BMPA said if India achieves the production to reserve ratio of 0.01, it can create direct employment of three lakh while providing another five lakh indirect jobs. It would generate a total turnover of over Rs 90,000 crore, some Rs 20,000 crore accruing to the government in the form of revenue.