The Technospheric Mining of Rare Earth Elements for Sustainable Technologies
Rare earth elements play a critical role in creating a sustainable society because they compose vital components of sustainable technologies such as wind turbines, electric and hybrid cars, and fluorescent lights. Despite their positive influence on the environment, their extraction and production is environmentally hazardous. It produces more greenhouse gases per kg of oxide than many other ores, and uses chemically intensive methods that create wastewater issues and environmental contamination. Furthermore, without the availability of these minerals, the production and advancement of these technologies would be reduced. The market is currently experiencing a gap in supply due to the decreased export quota from China. Technospheric mining provides an opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of the production of rare earth elements, as well as increase the supply for further development of sustainable technologies. Technospheric mining looks at three main categories of stocks as a resource for rare earth elements; pre-consumer fabrics, post-consumer products, and historic urban and industrial landfills. These three categories provide numerous options for rare earth recovery. However, unless advancements in processing technologies are made, the production of recyclates will have the same negative processing effects as virgin ores. Each resource has very different properties and the technologies must address this. Furthermore, if this technique is to be successful, legislation encouraging recycling needs to be applied.