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Novel mineral sheds light on rare-earth formation in Bayan Obo

By Liang Shuang | | Updated: 2024-01-15 22:53
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Chinese geologists have unearthed a groundbreaking new mineral in Inner Mongolia autonomous region, boasting a never-before-seen composition of heavy rare-earth elements. This marks the world's first discovery of such a mineral, offering valuable insights into the formation and abundance of these crucial elements in Bayan Obo, a major rare-earth deposit.

Professor Li Guowu from China University of Geosciences Beijing announced the discovery during a recent seminar, noting that the International Mineralogical Association has confirmed its status as a new mineral and approved its naming.

The project, led by Chinese Academy of Sciences academician Li Xianhua, aims to map the extent and formation history of rare-earth element mineral reserves within Bayan Obo. The newly discovered mineral, a novel flurocarbonate composed of heavy rare-earth elements like yttrium, dysprosium, and gadolinium, lies deep within the rock core of the deposit. The team did not disclose the estimated abundance of the mineral.

"This is a groundbreaking discovery," Li Xianhua told the seminar. "It sheds light on the distribution and abundance of heavy rare-earth elements in Bayan Obo, providing significant clues about the mine's formation and how these elements concentrated."

Bayan Obo, near Baotou in Inner Mongolia, has been a mining area for decades, primarily known for its iron ore. However, advancements in technology have led to the continual discovery of new minerals within the deposit. Since 1959, a staggering 18 new minerals have been identified there, constituting roughly 10 percent of all new mineral discoveries in China.

In recent years, growing demand for rare-earth elements in cutting-edge electronics and new materials has spurred renewed interest in Bayan Obo's previously neglected or discarded rare-earth element minerals. Efforts are underway to curb unsustainable and low-quality exploitation of this strategically vital resource.

The Baotou government reports that Bayan Obo covers an area of 48 square kilometers and boasts proven rare-earth element reserves accounting for 80 percent of China's total and 38 percent of the world's total. Baotou is also developing industrial zones to process these minerals locally, minimizing transportation and promoting efficient separation and smelting processes.

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