Study Shows Rare Earths Extraction Has Doubled in a Century – Science and Ecology

Spanish investigation warns of risk of extraction of scarce minerals

A Spanish investigation reveals that the extraction of rare and scarce minerals has doubled in the last 100 years, posing environmental, economic, social and geopolitical risks.

According to the work of the Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (CREAF-UAB) and the Higher Council for Scientific Research of Spain, 70% of the elements used by humans do not come from biomass.

Conversely, humans need large amounts of chemical elements to build the modern world and this set of elements is increasingly diverging from that needed by nature. Many of these elements, known as ‘rare earths’, are scarce and mainly located in a few countries.

The study also warns of increased energy consumption and CO2 emissions resulting from mineral extraction, and proposes to put an end to planned obsolescence and develop new technologies to facilitate more efficient recycling and reuse.

UAB professor and study co-author Jaume Terradas highlights that “sustaining the human element will be increasingly complex and risky, it will have to be done in terms of environmental justice and, of course, with a more rational use of the Earth’s limited resources”.

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