June 14, 2022

Mining and Developing Uranium from Rare Earth Elements

Do you want to know where to get uranium when there’s scarcity? There are large amounts of uranium in what is known as unconventional resources, in addition to the 6.1 million tonnes of uranium in the world’s known recoverable resources. 

Rare earth element (REE) deposits are an example of a non-traditional resource. REEs have unique catalytic, metallurgical, nuclear, electrical, magnetic, and luminescent capabilities and are used in a wide range of current technology, including satellites, batteries, and solar panels. 

REEs are a group of seventeen chemical elements found in the periodic table, including fifteen contiguous lanthanides as well as lighter scandium and yttrium. 

Scandium and yttrium are categorized as rare elements because they are found in the same ore sources as lanthanides and have similar physical and chemical properties.

Learn more about rare earth elements and the production of uranium from such materials in the sections below.

REE Varieties

There is a differential between light REEs (cerium earths) and heavy REEs (yttrium earths) in terms of economics and geology.

Scandium, lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, and gadolinium are examples of light REEs. 

Carbonatites and placer deposits are the main sources of these minerals. These are massive orebodies that are well-known and exploited all throughout the world.

Yttrium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium are heavy REEs. They’re mostly made out of ion-absorption clays. 

Heavy REE resources are usually scarcer, smaller, and less concentrated.

The ion adsorption clay ores of southern China provide the majority of the current supply of heavy REEs. With the heavy lanthanides, some of these produce concentrations comprising about 65 percent yttrium oxide. Yttrium has been found in uranium ores from Ontario on rare occasions.

Samarium, europium, and gadolinium can be found in any category, or they can be found in a middle REEs category with terbium and dysprosium. 

Methods of Production

Carbonatite-related deposits such as bastnasite, ionic clays, and monazite/xenotime, account for the majority of REE mining production in China, with the latter containing more uranium. 

Monazite, xenotime, and apatite are the most common minerals found outside of China. The complex steenstrupine mineral, which contains roughly 0.4 percent uranium, is the most abundant REE mineral in Greenland. 

Monazite and xenotime are phosphates, while bastnasite is a carbonate-fluoride mineral.

All of them have more than 50 percent REEs and trace amounts of uranium or thorium, which can be commercially recovered as a by-product. 

Monazite possesses roughly 14 percent heavy REEs in the United States, compared to one-tenth in bastnasite.

A REE mine will typically create a REE carbonate, which will then need to be processed for REE separation, followed by REE refining. Acid bake, caustic cracking, and acid leach are the three primary processes. 

Lynas and Arafura use acid bake, which can easily be converted for uranium recovery. Caustic cracking is used to recover uranium from pure monazite, although it is inefficient for uranium recovery.

Some companies use the acid leach flowsheet to extract uranium, which is required for a saleable REE product. Actinium-227, a byproduct of all operations, is a severe concern with increasing quantities of uranium in the REE carbonate. 

It’s a decay product of uranium-235, but it’s chemically very similar to lanthanum; therefore, it’s been linked to lanthanum reports.

Conclusion

REEs are reasonably prevalent in the Earth’s crust. Carbonatites, ion-absorption clay deposits, igneous systems, and monzanite-xenotime placer deposits are the four basic geological settings where REE resources can be found.

However, they are rarely discovered at economically useful concentrations. Because different REEs have similar chemical makeup, they easily connect with one another, creating a complicated extraction procedure. 

If you’re looking for a first-rate U.S. uranium company, you will find that in enCore Energy Corp. We’re a U.S. domestic uranium developer focused on becoming a leading in-situ recovery (ISR) uranium producer. Contact us today to learn more!