A geological reconnaissance of electrical and electronic waste as a source for rare earth metals.

Abstract

The mining of material resources requires knowledge about geogenic and anthropogenic deposits, in particular on the location of the deposits with the comparatively highest concentration of raw materials. In this study, we develop a framework that allows the establishment of analogies between geological and anthropogenic processes. These analogies were applied to three selected products containing rare earth elements (REE) in order to identify the most concentrated deposits in the anthropogenic cycle. The three identified anthropogenic deposits were characterised according to criteria such as "host rock", "REE mineralisation" and "age of mineralisation", i.e. regarding their "geological" setting. The results of this characterisation demonstrated that anthropogenic deposits have both a higher concentration of REE and a longer mine life than the evaluated geogenic deposit (Mount Weld, Australia). The results were further evaluated by comparison with the geological knowledge category of the United Nations Framework Classification for Fossil Energy and Mineral Reserves and Resources 2009 (UNFC-2009) to determine the confidence level in the deposit quantities. The application of our approach to the three selected cases shows a potential for recovery of REE in anthropogenic deposits; however, further exploration of both potential and limitations is required.

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