Rare earth elements (REEs) are the seventeen chemical elements lanthanides, Scandium and Yttrium. Because of their geochemical properties, REEs are typically dispersed and not often found concentrated as RE minerals in economically exploitable deposits. REEs are considered “key-enablers” of green technologies, as they are used in hybrid electric vehicles, wind mills, and highly efficient electric motors. The dependence on Chinese exports makes Europe, and western countries in general, extremely dependent and vulnerable to Chinese market control. Therefore REE are considered to be materials with the highest supply-risk.
Regaining REE from RE-containing waste streams may constitute an important RE secondary source in Europe.
A recent study, based on detailed trade data, estimates the global trade in RE-containing products in 2010 at around €1.5 trillion, or 13% of the global trade. However, only 1% of RE waste is being recovered as no adequate process is currently available. REE4EU will open-up a fully new route bringing recovery of in-process wastes from PM manufacturing within reach.