Cerium , a ‘rare earth’ mineral, accelerates important reactions and plays other relevant roles in the interaction with copper, gold, silver and uranium.
The study where these findings have been published has potentially broad implications for the materials industry and sector.
The research team discovered that cerium plays an active role during the replacement of magnetite by hematite : it acts as a catalyst that speeds up the reaction; provides space for the precipitation of valuable minerals; and promotes positive feedback between the reaction and fluid flow, which contributes to increasing the metal endowment in the reservoir.
As explained by study author Joël Brugger of the Monash School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment:
To discover new giant deposits and efficiently extract existing ones, we need a mechanistic understanding of the processes that form and transform minerals that host valuable metals. Although more recycling is an important part of the future of raw materials, we need more metals than the sum of those mined to date to facilitate the transition to a carbon-free economy. Giant deposits are attractive because they can produce for decades, providing long-term security of supply and justifying a large investment to ensure sustainable mining.
Rare earths are made up of 17 chemical elements: scandium, yttrium and the 15 elements of the lanthanide group (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium and lutetium). Although the name "rare earths" could lead to the conclusion that they are rare elements in the earth’s crust, some elements such as cerium, yttrium and neodymium are more abundant . They are described as "rare" because it is very rare to find them in a pure form, although there are deposits of some of them throughout the world.