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Developing a Life Cycle Inventory for Rare Earth Oxides from Ion-Adsorption Deposits: Key Impacts and Further Research Needs


Rare earth production from ion-adsorption deposits constitutes an important rare earth production route, and the most important production route for heavy rare earths such as dysprosium and terbium. The demand for dysprosium has experienced substantial growth in recent years, mainly due to its use in neodymium–iron–boron (Nd–Fe–B) magnets, the demand for which is increasing largely due to their use in efficient motor applications. Hence, the analysis of environmental impacts associated with rare earth mining and processing is gaining importance. In this study, a life cycle inventory for rare earth production from ion-adsorption deposits was compiled through a detailed analysis of the literature and with help from industry experts. A detailed review of the literature on environmental impacts associated with the mining process was also conducted, and impacts not covered by the current impact assessment methods are discussed. Despite the detailed study, data uncertainties remain. Therefore, recommendations for further research are given, including further investigations into the fate of emissions from in situ leaching of rare earths in the proximity of the mining site, and development of the methods used to assess resource extraction.

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  1. ISO: International Organization for Standardization.

  2. CML: Centrum voor Milieuwetenschappen, (Institute of Environmental Sciences, Leiden University).

  3. Assuming 10–30% above the theoretical consumption.

  4. APOS: allocation at point of substitution (see website of the database provider for details -

  5. (version 4.4. of January 2015, as implemented in OpenLCA method pack 1.5.5, updated by Greendelta as described in [51]).

  6. Please note that the figures are not directly comparable, since they refer to different processing routes for different types of ores, and produce different mixes of rare earth oxides.

  7. See [51] for details on updates by Greendelta.

  8. JRC: Joint Research Centre (of the European Commission).

  9. The ILCD midpoint method, category ADP reserve base, contains characterization factors for rare earths, but they are generic for all REE (except for yttrium, which has been assigned a different factor) [54 ].


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The research leading to results of this study has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under Grant Agreement No. 607411 (MC-ITN EREAN: European Rare Earth Magnet Recycling Network). This publication reflects only the authors’ views, exempting the Community from any liability. Project website: The authors would like to thank Solvay for enabling the expert interviews and for their help with the compilation of this dataset; Winfried Bulach, Bo Weidema, Lauran van Oers, Mikhail Tyumentsev, and members of the EREAN Steering Group, and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments.

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Correspondence to Rita Schulze.

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The contributing editor for this article was Markus Reuter.

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Schulze, R., Lartigue-Peyrou, F., Ding, J. et al. Developing a Life Cycle Inventory for Rare Earth Oxides from Ion-Adsorption Deposits: Key Impacts and Further Research Needs. J. Sustain. Metall. 3, 753–771 (2017).

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  • Life cycle assessment
  • In situ leaching
  • Dysprosium
  • Rare earth elements
  • Ion-adsorption deposits