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Saxony develops new resource technologies for Rare Earth Elements

Since June 2015, a consortium of German companies and science institutes with international cooperation partners, led by the G.U.B. Ingenieur AG, Dresden/Germany, works on the development of new mining technologies for Rare Earth Elements (REE), which are among the most critical technology metals for high-tech industries.

Scientists and engineers from Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt develop in the project “Rare Earth Metallurgy (SEM2)” innovative technologies for the efficient extraction and processing of REE. The project is funded with € 1,1 Mio. by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research in frame of the funding priority “r4 – Innovative Technologies for Resource Efficiency – Research for Supply of Economically Important Raw Materials” in the framework program “Research for Sustainable Development (FONA)”.

Critical technology metals like the Rare Earths Neodymium, Europium, Terbium and Yttrium comprise essential components in the production of electronic and high-tech products, high efficiency magnets and rechargeable batteries for renewable energy technologies and military devices. Over the last two decades those important raw materials have been almost exclusively imported from China. Ionadsorption clay deposits (IAC’s), the main source of REE are mined in southern China by surface- and mountain-top mining. The consortium “SEM2” works on optimizing chemical and biological extraction methods and develops new approaches for resource technologies and extraction of REE from IAC’s. Numerical process simulations accompanied and supported by experimental work will allow the extrapolation and adaptation of developed technologies to varying local circumstances at IAC-deposits worldwide. The project is based on the scientific competences and engineering experience of G.U.B. Ingenieur AG, Helmholtz-Centrum Dresden-Rossen-dorf, GMBU e.V., Halle, and IPK Gatersleben. Innovative and optimized mining technologies like in-situ and bio-leaching represent environmental sustainable alternatives for the extraction of those technology metals. About 200 comparable REE-rich laterite deposits exist in other regions worldwide (e. g. Madagascar, Laos, Suriname, Brazil). Consequently, any alternative and optimized mining technology for ion-adsorption clays will not only bear on the resource efficiency and environmental sustainability in China, but will also provide numerous alternative sources of the most critical technology metals.