Rare Earth Elements in Sedimentary Phosphorite Deposits: A Global Assessment
Published:January 01, 2016
Poul Emsbo, Patrick I. McLaughlin, Edward A. du Bray, Eric D. Anderson, Thijs R.A. Vandenbroucke, Robert A. Zielinski, 2016. "Rare Earth Elements in Sedimentary Phosphorite Deposits: A Global Assessment", Rare Earth and Critical Elements in Ore Deposits, Philip L. Verplanck, Murray W. Hitzman
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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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Rare Earth and Critical Elements in Ore Deposits
This special volume provides a comprehensive review of the current state of knowledge for rare earth and critical elements in ore deposits. The first six chapters are devoted to rare earth elements (REEs) because of the unprecedented interest in these elements during the past several years. The following eight chapters describe critical elements in a number of important ore deposit types. These chapters include a description of the deposit type, major deposits, critical element mineralogy and geochemistry, processes controlling ore-grade enrichment, and exploration guides. This volume represents an important contribution to our understanding of where, how, and why individual critical elements occur and should be of use to both geoscientists and public policy analysts.
The term “critical minerals” was coined in a 2008 National Research Council report (National Research Council, 2008). Although the NRC report used the term “critical minerals,” its focus was primarily on individual chemical elements. The two factors used in the NRC report to rank criticality were (1) the degree to which a commodity is essential, and (2) the risk of supply disruption for the commodity. Technological advancements and changes in lifestyles have changed the criticality of elements; many that had few historic uses are now essential for our current lifestyles, green technologies, and military applications. The concept of element criticality is useful for evaluation of the fragility of commodity markets. This fragility is commonly due to a potential risk of supply disruption, which may be difficult to quantify because it can be affected by political, economic, geologic, geographic, and environmental variables.
Identifying potential sources for some of the elements deemed critical can be challenging. Because many of these elements have had minor historic usage, exploration for them has been limited. Thus, as this volume highlights, the understanding of the occurrence and genesis of critical elements in various ore deposit models is much less well defined than for base and precious metals. A better understanding of the geologic and geochemical processes that lead to ore-grade enrichment of critical elements will aid in determining supply risk and was a driving factor for preparation of this volume. Understanding the gaps in our knowledge of the geology and geochemistry of critical elements should help focus future research priorities.
Critical elements may be recovered either as primary commodities or as by-products from mining of other commodities. For example, nearly 90% of world production of niobium (Nb) is from the Araxá niobium mine (Brazil), whereas gallium (Ga) is recovered primarily as a by-product commodity of bauxite mining or as a by-product of zinc processing from a number of sources worldwide.
- Central Asia
- chemically precipitated rocks
- Commonwealth of Independent States
- metal ores
- Middle East
- mineral resources
- phosphate deposits
- phosphate rocks
- rare earth deposits
- rare earths
- sedimentary rocks
- South America
- United States