Over the past decade, Rare Earth Elements (REEs) have gained special interests due to their significance in many industrial applications, especially those related to clean energy. While REEs production is known to cause damage to the ecosystem, only a handful of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) investigations have been conducted in recent years, mainly due to lack of data and information. This is especially true for the solvent extraction separation of REEs from aqueous solution which is a challenging step in the REEs production route. In the current investigation, an LCA is carried out on a typical REE solvent extraction process using P204/kerosene and the energy/material flows and emissions data were collected from two different solvent extraction facilities in Inner Mongolia and Fujian provinces in China. In order to develop life cycle inventories, Ecoinvent 3 and SimaPro 8 software together with energy/mass stoichiometry and balance were utilized. TRACI and ILCD were applied as impact assessment tools and LCA outcomes were employed to examine and determine ecological burdens of the REEs solvent extraction operation. Based on the results, in comparison with the production of generic organic solvent in the Ecoinvent dataset, P204 production has greater burdens on all TRACI impact categories. However, due to the small amount of consumption, the contribution of P204 remains minimal. Additionally, sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid are the two impactful chemicals on most environmental categories used in the solvent extraction operation. On average, the solvent extraction step accounts for 30% of the total environmental impacts associated with individual REOs. Finally, opportunities and challenges for an enhanced environmental performance of the REEs solvent extraction operation were investigated.
Journal of Environmental Management – Elsevier
Published: Dec 1, 2017
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