Researchers create synthetic rocks to better apprehend how increasingly more sought-after uncommon earth elements form

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin have shed new light on the formation of increasingly precious rare earth elements (REEs) by creating synthetic rocks

and testing their responses to varying environmental conditions. REEs are used in electronic devices and green energy technologies, from smartphones to e-cars.

The findings, just published in the journal Global Challenges, have implications for recycling REEs from electronic waste, designing materials with advanced functional properties

Dr. Juan Diego Rodriguez-Blanco, Associate Professor in Nanomineralogy at Trinity and an iCRAG (SFI Research Center in Applied Geosciences) Investigator, was the principal investigator of the work.

"As both the global population and the fight against carbon emissions grow in the wake of global climate change, the demand for REEs simultaneously increases

"The genesis of rare earth deposits is one of the most complex problems in Earth sciences, but our approach is shedding new light on the mechanisms by which rocks containing rare earths form.

Many countries are currently searching for more REE deposits with minable concentrations, but the extraction processes are often challenging, and the separation methods are expensive and environmentally aggressive.

One of the main sources of REEs are REE-carbonate deposits. The biggest known deposit is Bayan-Obo in China, which supplies over 60% of the global REEs need.

Their study has revealed that fluids containing REEs replace common limestone—and this happens via complex reactions even at ambient temperature.