Circular economics can expand rare-earth element supply chains

08 January 2024 15:17


Bejing/Newcastle/Leiden - Circular economies can reshape global supply chains for neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, terbium, and other important rare-earth elements, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience. The study considers newly extracted rare-earth elements as well as reused and recycled materials.

Rare-earth elements are crucial to developing renewable energy sources as well as other changes in the worldwide green transition that will help curb carbon emissions that cause climate change.

But these elements aren’t easy to obtain. Expanding their extraction, furthermore, will dump more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and potentially harm local communities where they are minded.

Now researchers believe that circular economic principles can address this problem.

Published on January 4, the study entitled “Regional rare-earth element supply and demand balanced with circular economy strategies” found that resource extraction coupled with reuse and recycling in ten regions of the globe could expand supplies of critical rare-earth elements between 2021 and 2050. The study also factored in different climate change scenarios that could affect the predictions.

If regions that consumed rare-earth elements boosted their recycling and reusing, the authors found, they could dramatically reduce the amount of new mining.

“We find a considerable mismatch between in-ground stocks, supply, and demand at specific region and element levels, with the mismatch for heavy rare-earth elements as a key obstacle for achieving net-zero emissions targets,” the study’s co-authors, who are based in Britain, China, and the Netherlands.

The study claimed that circular economy strategies that generated 701 kilotons of rare-earth minerals in the next 30 years could decrease demand for new elements by 2,306 kilotons in the same period.

“We suggest that, as in-ground stocks decline among mineral suppliers, the accumulation of in-use stocks in consuming regions can foster a more balanced and less polarized geopolitical landscape for rare-earth elements,” they wrote. ce/jd

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