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Production of rare earth oxides: Assessment of the environmental impacts in two Chinese mines

by Bouorakima, Alandji, MS

Abstract (Summary)
The recent interest in environmental friendly technologies has created a significant increase in the demand of rare earths. Rare earths are indeed used in many applications (e.g. car electric batteries, rechargeable batteries, energy saving light bulbs) because of their specific properties. As such, it was interesting to shed a light on the environmental cost of producing these rare earths. Thus, this study aims at determining the different environmental impacts from producing rare earth. It appraises the impacts from the mining of virgin ore until the production of rare earth oxides (which is the most commonly used and produced form of rare earth). This study focuses on two Chinese deposits (Bayan Obo and Maoniuping) that account for 70% of the world production of rare earths. After two literature reviews describing firstly the rare earth market and then the processes used in the two deposits, the emphasis is laid on the life cycle assessment methodology. Based on both data collected in the literature reviews and personal estimations, the life cycle assessment is carried out using a standardised methodology. As a result, the environmental impacts of producing rare earth oxide are assessed regarding the following categories: global warming, acidification, eutrophication, radioactive waste generation, land use and toxicity in wastewaters. To conclude, on the one hand this study provides an extensive analysis of rare earths in general, then it describes in detail the two biggest mines presently in operations. On the other hand, the life cycle assessment methodology provides results concerning six different impact categories. These results are potentially generalizable since it appraises generic processes to this industry. This study can be useful to whoever is trying to measure the environmental impacts of a product that contains rare earth oxides.
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Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Julia STEGEMANN

School:University of London - University College London

School Location:United Kingdom

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:rare earths, rare earth oxide, life cycle assessment, Chinese rare earths, Bayan Obo, Baotou, Maoniuping, environmental impacts.

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Date of Publication:09/12/2011

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