Economy, Business And Markets

Independent REE Explorations Economically Unviable

Independent REE Explorations Economically UnviableIndependent REE Explorations Economically Unviable

The Iranian Mines and Mining Industries Development and Renovation Organization (IMIDRO) recently initiated a national project to explore the potential rare earth element (REE) reserves and develop the indigenized technology for the production of these minerals.

However, experts believe conducting separate explorations for REEs independent of other mining explorations is not economically viable, the daily Ta’adol reported.

“Exploration of REE reserves should be carried out simultaneously with exploring other minerals. As the REEs are the byproducts of other minerals, one might come across the REEs while exploring or extracting for other minerals, but exploring for REEs alone is not justifiable,” member of Iran Mine House, Mohammad-Ja’far Sadeqi-Panah was quoted as sayings.

In addition to independent explorations being economically unfeasible, Sadeqi-Panah noted that Iran currently lacks the technical know-how to efficiently extract and process the REEs.    

“Processing the REEs is extremely complex and Iran does not have the required technology. The best it can do under the circumstances is to identify and map the rare earth elements while extracting other minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, and lead ores,” he added.

He further noted that identifying the REEs also requires specialized techniques and equipment, suggesting more investment to be made towards mineral exploration. He urged officials to increase the research and development funds to make the extraction and processing of these valuable elements possible.

 More Valuable Than Gold

The rare earth elements can at times be 100 times more valuable than gold, said university professor Ahmad Meshkani, adding that despite their high value, investing on the development of REEs is not feasible under the current circumstances.

“The country cannot afford to invest money, time, and energy on exploring and extracting the REEs at a time when the country’s mineral resources remain largely unexplored,” Meshkani said.

He added that the two research projects already conducted by IMIDRO to explore for rare elements have not achieved any tangible results, “because exploration and extraction of REEs need fundamental long-term plans and enormous budgets.”

The IMIDRO head, Mehdi Karbasian, has described the REEs as a profitable and fascinating sector, expressing IMIDRO’s preparedness to invest substantially in the field. But as the REEs are used in high-tech industries, in which Iran is not very advanced, a realistic prospect is that even if the country eventually succeeds in exploring and extracting these elements, it would have to export the minerals.

The production and consumption of REEs are globally on the rise as they are essential for manufacturing high tech products including advanced electronic and telecommunication devices, automotives and aircrafts, metallurgical alloys, pigment and paint, glass, ceramics, and medical equipment. The diverse nuclear, metallurgical, chemical, catalytic, electrical, magnetic, and optical properties of the REEs have led to their ever increasing applications.

 Experts say the value added by recycling the mine tailings is more than 5000%, but the technical know-how is limited to only a few countries.