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Abstract

Each year an estimated 56,000 metric tons (t) of rare earth elements (REEs), including 23,000 t of heavy REEs (HREEs), are mined, beneficiated, and put into solution, but not recovered, by operations associated with the global phosphate fertilizer industry. Importantly, the REEs in sedimentary phosphorites are nearly 100% extractable, using technologies currently employed to meet global phosphate fertilizer needs. Our evaluation suggests that by-product REE production from these phosphate mines could meet global REE requirements. For example, the calculated REE flux accompanying phosphate production in the United States is approximately 40% of the world’s total and, alone, could supply 65% of global HREEs needs. Moreover, recognition that the tonnages and HREE concentrations of some unmined phosphorite deposits dwarf the world’s richest REE deposits suggests that these deposits might constitute stand-alone REE deposits. The hypothesized genesis of these REE-rich occurrences strongly supports the long-debated suggestion that oceanic REE contents vary in a secular fashion and that associated high-grade REE abundances reflect oceanic redox state transitions during specific time periods. Here, we use this new process-based model, based on observed variations in global-secular REE abundances, to identify phosphorite horizons deposited during periods favorable for highgrade REE accumulation.

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