Rare-earth elements (REE) are viewed as ‘critical metals’ due to a complex array of production and political issues, most notably a near monopoly in supply from China. Red mud, the waste product of the Bayer process that produces alumina from bauxite, represents a potential secondary resource of REE. Karst bauxite deposits represent the ideal source material for REE-enriched red mud as the conditions during formation of the bauxite allow for the retention of REE. The REE pass through the Bayer Process and are concentrated in the waste material. Millions of tonnes of red mud are currently stockpiled in onshore storage facilities across Europe, representing a potential REE resource. Red mud from two case study sites, one in Greece and the other in Turkey, has been found to contain an average of ∼1000 ppm total REE, with an enrichment of light over heavy REE. Although this is relatively low grade when compared with typical primary REE deposits (Mountain Pass and Mount Weld up to 80,000 ppm), it is of interest because of the large volumes available, the cost benefits of reprocessing waste, and the low proportion of contained radioactive elements. This work shows that ∼12,000 tonnes of REE exist in red mud at the two case study areas alone, with much larger resources existing across Europe as a whole.
- Rare earth elements