Assessment of the Supply Chain for Rare Earth Elements

Assessment of the Supply Chain for Rare Earth Elements

Jiangxue Liu1, Jan Bongaerts1, Leopold Weber2, Mariia Rochikashvili1

1TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Germany; 2University of Wien, Austria

In recent years, technological innovations have resulted in manifold applications using rare earth elements (REEs), leading to a dramatic increase in demand for them. Because of their unique physicochemical properties, REEs are considered indispensable in modern industry. They are extensively used in new materials, energy conservation, environmental protection and IT devices as well as in military weapon systems. They have also significantly contributed to the miniaturisation of electronic components, such as, for example, cell phones and laptop computers. REEs are essential for green technologies such as wind turbines. They are widely applied in the automotive industry for catalysts, hybrid vehicle batteries, motors and generators, etc.

Due to the similarity of the chemical characteristics of each individual REE, the production processes for REEs with high purity are very complex: the processing and separation can be technically challenging. Furthermore, the chemical extraction processes involved have generated severe environmental problems. Currently, the supply of REEs is concentrated in China. To reduce the dependence on China, many countries have started to search for alternative REE sources, which can be classified into “primary sources” and “secondary sources”. Many REE exploration projects outside China and REE recycling projects have been launched. However, the success of the development of these projects is impacted by various risks, such as political risks, technical risks, environmental risks and social risks.

This paper provides an analysis of REE deposits and the supply chain for REEs. As results, a data base of potential REEs project is compiled, while an overview of the supply chain for REEs and an analysis of geological, technical, economic, environmental and social risk factors across the supply chain are presented.