Rare earth minerals are the metals that are used in most of the technological advancements of the twenty first century. They are used in phones, tablets, computers, and even car batteries. The truth is that the usable forms of these metals aren’t actually rare. They are simply called rare because it is rare to find them in their purest forms.
Until recently, China was the only country that was set up for harvesting and refining these minerals and metals. They had a pretty solid monopoly over the industry. Then investigators started finding stores of them all over the world. Not wanting to be beholden to a single country and its regulations, lots of companies got in (or have attempted to get in, which we’ll explain in a moment) on this cash cow of an industry.
Ironically, though the harvesting of them is fraught with environmental problems, rare earths are the primary “ingredient” in most of the green technologies we are familiar with today. Compact fluorescent bulbs, for example, require these minerals to operate properly. And, of course, who can forget about the iPhone? Without these minerals and metals, we wouldn’t have the world’s most popular smart phone (or any of its clones).
More mining means the need for more refined methods, so that the environmental impact can be minimized. This is why some environmentalists have applauded the Lynas Advanced Materials plant which has sought to implement new environmental safeguards to their modes of operation.
Other companies too are working extremely hard to make their mining practices more environmentally friendly. Here are some of the advancements being made in this area.
Currently, Urban mining is the most popular option and is becoming more popular every day. Urban mining is the act of reclaiming the rare earth minerals and metals used in technologies that people no longer want or use. They take in these used computers, phones, etc and harvest the rare earth minerals found within them and then repurpose them (recycle) in other, new things.
Other advancements have been made in the refining process of these minerals. This reduces the potential for nuclear waste, etc. They also reduce the effect the mining has on water resources, soil erosion, etc. China, hoping to retain as much of a monopoly as possible on the industry, released a list of companies that use environmentally friendly methods.