There are alternatives to polluting protocols for extracting …

Comment posted Scotland should think hard before exploiting its rare earths by GreentechforREEs.

There are alternatives to polluting protocols for extracting rare earths. A Canadian company has developed technology for the safe extraction of rare earths without polluting the local environment as the Chinese have done. I believe the use of this technology, which extracts rare earths as a byproduct from aluminous clay, will prove to be the tipping point in balancing our need for these materials to drive our progress in green technology with both an economic and environmentally friendly bottom-line.

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21 Responses to There are alternatives to polluting protocols for extracting …

  1. I don’t think a fair comparison is being carried out here between the extensive hse, planning and regulatory framework which exists in Scotland and the enforcement regime which exists in china.

    There are challenges I agree in the managent in the extractation of such a resource. However challenges which can be managed by the expertise available in Scotland in the existing mining and industrial base.

    I understand your caution but this should be one of those opportunities to piggy back the refinement and manufacturing of components locally by q skilled workforce.

    Scotland can manage this opportunity and avian prove itself to the outside world that they are world leaders not only in the management of oil and gas resources but also that of rare earths.

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    • For ourmaninoslo: The simple reality is that there is no regulatory regime that can respond to or police to the volumes of waste produced.

      As with radioactive wastes produced by the nuclear process, we cannot neutralise these wastes. How would any regulatory regime govern where the mass of this waste would go?

      Our current regulatory regime in Scotland is far form fir for purpose. It has been unable to get the MoD to conduct a thorough cleaning of Dalgety beach in Fife or to have any impact whatsoever on the MoD’s continuing use of the nuclear waste facility at Faslane that has, several times, leaked radioactive material into the Clyde and is very far beyond its safe operational lifetime date.

      In both these cases, the polluter is a major department of state over whom one would expect a state regulatory regime to have more purchase than it would have over a private sector commercial operation. Yet, on evidence, it has no such effective control.

      So commercial exploitation of rare earths in Scotland and anywhere in the UK could not be a more unstable and dangerous situation to contemplate.

      As far as rare earths are concerned, thesy are also used in the arms industry and anyone who imagines that this industry is regulatable – in the was we civvies understand ‘regulation’ – is naive in the extreme.

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      • Newsroom does itself no favours with its treatment of this story: the demand for these minerals isn’t likely to go away, and the possibility of mining them in a properly responsible manner in this country is worth serious debate rather than being subject to outright condemnation, apparently on the crude notion that we’d create the same environmental horror that’s reported in China. Isn’t there the opportunity to develop and apply techniques to resolve the environmental problems and conserve the character of the far northern coast while achieving real benefits in both security of supply and enhancing the skills base in this country?

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  2. There are alternatives to polluting protocols for extracting rare earths. A Canadian company has developed technology for the safe extraction of rare earths without polluting the local environment as the Chinese have done. I believe the use of this technology, which extracts rare earths as a byproduct from aluminous clay, will prove to be the tipping point in balancing our need for these materials to drive our progress in green technology with both an economic and environmentally friendly bottom-line.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • For Greentechfor RREs: Your commenting name identifies you as a – probably commercially – interested party. Therefore what yo say has to be read in that context.

      It would be helpful if you would give specifics of the Canadian process you refer to rather than give bland assurances.

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  3. Newsroom,

    My statement is that china does not provide a compatible benchmark in terms of regulation, hse and oversight.

    Again benchmarking the active waste facility in Clyde against what has happened in china Isolde again benchmarking apples against basket balls in terms of consequential and societal impact.

    I believe that between sepa the mining regulators the local authorities and the hse executive there exists a robust framework of regulation.

    The government can ensure that local jobs are provided for by inserting a local content clause in the tender got the mining rights. Spin off industries can be encouraged through tax free zones. This isn’t difficult it’s the norm in Africa for the oil industry.

    Whilst I find your concerns understandable I feel that they are a tad over blown. But that the beauty if the forum we can have a balanced debate!

    I’ll leave you with one thought if Scotland is tobecome a future renewable world leAder I can’t think of a better competitive advantage to have a steady source of raw materials.

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    • For ourmaninoslo: You’re getting trapped in the ‘appearance versus reality’ problem.

      Just because we have organisations labelled with specific relevant responsibilities, does not mean they are good enough or independent enough in the exercise of those responsibilities.

      Nor does it mean that they are anywhere near good enough to deal with something of the nature, scale and toxicity of rare earths extraction and processing wastes.

      And in a world where what can go wrong will go wrong, our concerns are not overblown – although we know that they will be an unwelcome contribution to specific vested interests. These include the defence, arms, electronics and renewables industries.

      We also know that such concerns may also be unwelcome where there is an over anxious desire to prove that an independent Scotland is an economically sustainable proposition. Of course it is – and without resorting to such sources of income just because they’re there.

      And yes, of course we agree that an open comment system is a fantastically valuable and enabling resource in bringing together contrary facts, information, examples and contrary views.

      It’s a daily delight.

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  4. I think THIS is the Canadian company and process referred to. It is only applicable to the Scottish case if the rare earths are contained in bauxite deposits. The production of rare earths in the Canadian process seems to be a by-product rather than the main purpose of the operation.

    Before using rare earths as a stick to beat renewables with it is worth remembering that we are all guilty participants in this filthy industry. Neodymium magnets appear in products such as microphones, loudspeakers, in-ear headphones (ear buds and hearing aids), guitar pick-ups and computer hard drives.

    The largest rare earths mine outside China is owned by Molycorp in the US.Its neodymium is more expensive because it has to comply with a huge raft of environmental legislation. Yesterday its share price dropped 14% on the back of the announcement that China’s rare earth export quotas will not fall next year as previously thought.

    The truth is that we are all complicit in the destruction of the Chinese environment. We can take these stances to make ourselves feel good, but for as long as we allow the ‘free market’ to control everything we do and behave as god consumers these problems will remain. If we are not prepared to take the risk of producing our own neodymium then really we have to throw away our hi-fis, computers and smartphones.

    Personally I would rather see the world’s cleanest, most expensive neodymium produced in Scotland and used purely by Scottish manufacturers. To enable this we have to create an economic system where environmental damage is a real cost, not one that is farmed out to the planetary commons and ignored.

    Really, it should be a question of ‘whatever it takes’ rather than another soapbox article written using neodymium-powered technology.

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    • Thanks for the link – on today’s reading list.

      We agree with much of what you say – but the UK is not, philosophically, a ‘whatever it takes’ culture, not in the sense you mean of whatever it takes to get something right.

      On the evidence, we are a ‘whatever it takes’ – ‘to get what we want ‘ culture, or a ‘whatever it takes’ – ‘to get by’ culture – hence the mess at Doonreay; the unstable nuclear waste storage capacity at Faslane; the failure of the MoD to keep clean and to clean up armaments and dump sites; ‘regulation with a light touch’ in the financial world; hospital acquired infections in the NHS; the inability to control the costs and process of large scale public sector and defence procurement projects…

      We can see no evidence of any kind to suggest that Britain has what it takes – or has the remotest interest – to adopt the ‘whatever it takes’ mentality of the sort you mean – to get it right and to keep it right.

      The test is would you personally trust those who would be involved at all levels enough to move to live beside such a facility? Who would?

      The volumes of liquid toxic waste involved in this (the most dangerous) and in shale gas fracking (even more voluminous) are simply too great ever to be safely manageable, let alone by a culture for whom appearance takes precedence over substance.

      And we weren’t using this to hammer the wind renewables industry although it does raise questions for that industry to consider and answer.

      There is considerable discomfort in the collision of the environmental protection case for green renewables (and rare earths are finite) and the environmental destruction in the extraction and processing of the rare earths necessary to make the magnets that power the generators in the turbines.

      Our concern is not to find armoury to launch at the renewables industry – on which we are currently critically agnostic – but centrally focused on the dangerous combination of the short termist dash for cash mentality alongside a pitiable capacity for forward planning of the calibre we need – which involves the deep consideration of consequences of actions.

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    • Is “Webcraft” also the administrator of the blog “”? The sentence “Personally I would rather see the world’s cleanest, most expensive neodymium produced in Scotland and used purely by Scottish manufacturers.” appears verbatim, posted by “admin”, in that blog.
      We are in danger of getting into circular links here. In any case, I think that something like a “declaration of interest” might be appropriate.

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      • HMF,
        ‘Circular links’?? There isn’t a link to Scots Renewables in my comment above, so I am not sure quite what you are trying to suggest. The pingback showing as comment no.6 is an automatic WordPress function, which has happened because I linked to this article in my post.

        I am the admin of the blog you refer to, a fact that is well-known to ForArgyll and that can easily be discovered or deduced by anyone sufficiently interested. In fact I created and posted that article after making the comment here, as I felt it would be of interest to our readership as well as that of ForArgyll.

        And before you ask, no, I am not in the pocket of the renewables industry :-)

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  5. Before we start looking at these important technical details can we address the nature of the development which is to exploit a non-renewable resource. The Brundtland Commission report, Our Common Future, talks about the wise use of our resources including non-renewable and I would argue that the wise use in the case of minerals is to leave the local community better off than when the development started.

    This type of development should be used as a catalyst for renewable resource development. The landscape that is held up to us as a wilderness is in fact an ecological slum and capable of so much more. When we can link the quality of the local community’s life to the existence of a diverse productive ‘northern’ environment then we can build true conservation, true sustainability and break the dependency cycle.

    So before a sod of earth is moved can we look at the development plan and see if the local community are the beneficiaries or will it once again go to the landowner who has done nothing but own the piece of land. Jobs are not a benefit in the long term, think of Fife mining villages that faced economic ruin when the pits closed. A ‘real’ fund administered by the local community should be used to build their renewable economic base (and I don’t mean windfarms)so that when the ‘mine’ closes their community is already economically independent of it. …Just a thought.

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    • For Derek Pretswell: No bad thought.
      It would be good to hear more from you on this.

      And detail on what you describe as an ‘ecological slum’ would be interesting and could be educative – as would be analysis of the development plan.

      Your distinction between community development measured by the creation of jobs of a limited lifespan – and the building of sustainable communities identifies the approach that really can make a difference.

      Yet this is a tricky one both because the extraction process is itself toxic in is residues and sending materials for processing elsewhere simply avoids – by exporting – the moral issue.

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      • My primary thought is to build quality of life for our communities, and as I’ve said before community is not a demographic concept it is a behavioural one; a sense of belonging and willingness to participate within individuals. It is individuals who make up the community and what better platform to stand on than that which gives each individual the chance to control their own lives by being a resource holder with a mixed economic portfolio; small holding plus job just like Norwegian farmers who may also be diplomats teachers or shop workers.
        Sustainable development requires the development of environmental, social and economic factors, much like the work, people and place of Patrick Geddes. Unfortunately for us the economic factor is unyielding and so the social and environmental factors suffer. Those who use the word sustainable do so often without having read the Brundtland report and don’t understand its tri-partite nature.
        Our economic policy is to maximise profit and for the environment that has resulted in a monocultural attitude. Our landscape is under achieving, we are still sold the nonsense that the extent of our heather moorlands is natural and that the remote highlands represent a wilderness area. We were a forested country, the romans called us the land of the high forest, and the main reason it isn’t so today is because we have destroyed it. There was a period of climate change, the Atlantic phase, when it became colder and wetter but his affected other western edge areas of Europe and they still have forest. If one looks at bioclimatic data and compare like with like those identical areas of Europe are forested. Forest isn’t just about trees, it does so many important things for the soils; improving depth and fertility, controlling the amount of water in the soil, and importantly for the rest and be thankful, it stabilises soils on gradients. This biological potential is little understood by many of the resource holders who seek to maximise the profitability of their land.
        If we make the land the best it can be, develop ‘industry’ that lives off the biological interest generated by the biological capital, put local resources under local control so that the quality of life of the local community is dependent on the existence of the diverse biological resource, then we get proper conservation and real sustainable development.
        So where we have a non-renewable resource then if we harvest it properly, with environmental safeguards, we can use the profits from this to pump prime, like a catalyst, the development of renewable business. This will also require a new realtionship between landowner and local community for profit sharing until such times as we can change the land ownership pattern in this country. Perhaps we should be looking at Land Rental Value (LRV) as a starting point?

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    • Indeed I agree (sadly) that “jobs” (strictly in the sense of announcements by developers and politicians) are not a benefit in the long term. I wish that politicians (etc) who announce “thousand jobs created by such-and-such development” would distinguish between construction jobs — for the one/two/few years of construction; or low-paid service jobs — until the commercial business folds; or genuine, permanent, three(plus)-generation jobs in a really-sustainable business. (Actually, that last option may not be realistically achievable in modern financial circumstances. Aye weel.)

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  6. Pingback: Rare Earths In Scotland – An Ethical Dilemma? | Scotland's Renewable Energy Blog

  7. I was working last week on detailed negotiations with an oil major, at about 2 am our head of the legal team commented to me that if it was up to the lawyers all the oil would have been left in the ground!!

    Having had experience of both SEPA and nuclear and oil regulatory structures I can not agree with your statement that the regulatory structure within the uk is not up to the task of managing and overseeing such a process.

    Additionally you take one aspect out of the equation, the company which will undertake the extraction. The government can put one of the criteria in the selection process hse, ethics and enviromental responsibility.

    Big business wants to make a profit, most businesses want o be able to make a profit in 100 years time and to exist in 100 years time. The only way this can happen is by being transparent and responsible for your actions.

    So a portrayal of a smash and grab approach to the extraction of this resource overseen by a weak and inept regulator is not a fair one.

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    • For ourmaninoslo:
      We would like to think as you do that we are living in a world of corporate social and environmental responsibility – but we are not.

      And with non-renewable resources, like rare earths and shale gas, smash and grab is the name of the game.
      With reference to SEPA – on the evidence of its performance, you would find few to agree with you on its efficacy. An earlier but recent article we published on its licensing of shale gas fracking at Canonbie in Dumfries and Galloway is indicative:

      All of that aside – how would you suggest that the volumes of toxic liquid waste resulting from both shale gas fracking and rare earths extraction and processing might safely be dealt with?

      The physical reality of the mass of this material makes the scale of risk involved patently clear.

      Shale gas fracking requires up to 3 million gallons of water – per treatment. 3 million gallons.

      This is taken out of the water supply – for each single treatment – and the percentage recovered in the fracking mud – which contains oil and carcinogenic chemicals – is neither recyclable not apparently cleanable.

      The five mile wide toxic lake at Baotou, revealed by the journalists Parry and Douglas in January 2011, is the result of 7 million tons a year of mined rare earth saturated in acids and chemicals, accumulated since the 1960s.

      Of course one could be sure that no operation in the UK would be allowed simply to pump such material into the open in this way.

      But where would an annual 7 million tons of such toxic and radioactive waste material go? And how could its security and safety be reliably assured?

      At BEST it can be no more than yet another toxic time bomb we would bequeath to future generations.

      Good regulatory regimes are not the issue here.

      The problem is the sheer physical impossibility of dealing safely and responsibly with these volumes of highly dangerous waste material.

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  8. Interestingly, the radiation in the tailings from rare earth mining comes primarily from thorium. Perhaps it could be extracted and used to fuel these safer, more efficient thorium nuclear reactors we keep hearing so much about.

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