REE-Thinking the Future – 2011 CSM SEG Student Chapter Mini-Symposium on Rare Earth Element Geology

Title: REE-Thinking the Future – 2011 CSM SEG Student Chapter Mini-Symposium on Rare Earth Element Geology

Author: Wesley S. Hall, President, CMS SEG Student Chapter

Publication: The Outcrop, March 2012, p. 6-8

The seventeen elements that make up the lanthanides (atomic numbers 57-71), plus yttrium and scandium are considered rare earth elements (REEs), which are further divided into LREEs (La through Eu) and HREEs (Gd through Lu). These ‘rare’ elements
and materials form the backbone of green energy and cutting edge communication and
electronic technologies. Rare earth elements are used in a number of products, most notably in high strength magnets, hybrid cars, wind turbines, lanthanum batteries, photovoltaic cells, fluorescent light bulbs, disk drives, and a number of other common technologies rely on REEs, the demand for which continues to grow.

The term ‘rare earth elements’ is misleading as several of the REEs occur in greater abundance within the Earth’s crust than Cu, Au, and Ag. China currently leads the world in REE production, but the demand for these elements has encouraged production in several countries (USA and Australia) that will soon enter the global REE market. Given the recent decrease in rare earth element exports from China and the growing demand for these energy critical elements, REE supplies are at the forefront of energy concerns for an energy dependent society.

Dr. Murray Hitzman, Charles F. Fogarty Professor of Economic Geology at Colorado School of Mines (CSM), whose research interests include critical materials, inspired the SEG student chapter to hold an REE symposium. The idea was sparked by the visit to CU of his colleague Dr. Yasushi Watanabe, REE specialist from the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science & Technology (AIST) and senior geologist with
the Geological Survey of Japan.

The interest in REE geology was such that within hours of speaking with Dr. Watanabe, Dr. Hitzman was able to line up a series of talks including Philip Verplanck and Brad Van Gosen (USGS Research Scientists) and Richard Grauch (USGS Emeritus Scientist). The SEG student chapter also invited Mandi Reinshagen and Michael Berger, who are both students working on REE projects to present at the symposium. Dr. Roderick (Rod) Eggert, CSM Professor of Mineral Economics, was slated to talk to the CSM SEG Student Chapter at the end of the semester, but due to his current involvement with economic policy regarding REEs, the student chapter invited Dr. Eggert to speak at the symposium. Upon hearing about the symposium, Larry James, consulting geologist, contacted the student chapter about giving a talk on the Bayan Obo iron ore – REE deposit in China. In the good spirit of disseminating scientific research, the CSM SEG Student Chapter decided to offer the mini-symposium free of charge to guests.

Watanabe-san focused his speech on applications of REEs in high strength magnets and everyday electronics devices. He introduced the audience to the wide variety of REE
deposit types and ended speaking on current economic policy issues in regards to China and the rest of the world.

Dr. Brad Van Gosen
USGS Research Scientist, Minerals Division
Dr. Van Gosen presented on the principal rare earth deposits of the United States. He reviewed the types of REE deposits found in the US and highlighted several districts including Mountain Pass, CA; Bear Lodge, WY; and Bokan Mountain, AK.

Dr. Philip Verplanck
USGS Research Scientist, Minerals Division
Dr. Verplanck talked on the petrology and geochemistry of carbonatite and alkaline-intrusion related REE deposits.

Mandi Reinshagen
M.Sc. Candidate at CSM, Consultant to Rare Element Resources
Ms. Reinshagen gave a presentation on her research on the Bear Lodge, WY REE deposit, which she is working on for her Master’s thesis. This was a first glimpse into a project that will likely become a major US REE supplier.

Michael Berger
B.S. in Geological Engineering at UC, Boulder; Intern, Molycorp Inc.
Mr. Berger spoke about the geology of the recently re-opened Mountain Pass, CA REE mine; the mine was the major global supplier of LREEs until 1995, closing in 2002. Michael is conducting an Honors Thesis research project on the REE-bearing mineral monazite at Mountain Pass.

Dr. Richard Grauch
USGS Emeritus Research Scientist; REE consultant
Dr. Grauch presented a compelling talk on the nature of ion-adsorption type (IAT) lanthanide-yttrium clay deposits of southern China. Southern China has the only known economic occurrence of IAT-REE clays and currently supplies the bulk of world’s
HREEs, but the extraction methods also pose a significant environmental concern.

Larry James
Consulting Geologist
Larry shared his experience and observations on the geology of the Bayan Obo deposit in Inner Mongolia, China. Bayan Obo is primarily an iron mine, but it produces significant
quantities of LREEs. The geology of the deposit is still poorly understood.

Dr. Rod Eggert
Professor, Mineral & Energy Economics Program, CSM
Dr. Eggert closed the mini-symposium with a talk on REE economics. He highlighted the
importance of several aspects of the supply chain behind critical materials and their effects on financial markets and foreign policy decisions being made today and in the future.

The REE mini-symposium was a tremendous success for the CSM SEG Student Chapter
and was an informative and stimulating session for all those in attendance. The CSM SEG
Student Chapter would like to thank the presenters who graciously donated their time to
speak at this event. We would also like to express our sincere gratitude to Olympus InnovX for sponsoring the symposium and to the Society of Economic Geologists (SEG) and the Denver Region Exploration Geologists’ Society (DREGS) for helping to advertise this event to the public. If you would like copies of available abstracts and presentations, please visit the CSM SEG Student Chapter website at http://geology.mines.edu/econgeol/segevents.html.