Adsorption of rare earth elements in regolith-hosted clay deposits

Anouk Borst, Martin Smith, Adrian Finch, Guillaume Estrade, Cristina Villanova-De-Benavent, Peter Nason, Eva Marquis, Nicola Horsburgh, Kathryn M. Goodenough, Cheng Xu, Jindrich Kynicky, Kalotina Geriaki

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Global resources of heavy Rare Earth Elements (REE) are dominantly sourced from Chinese regolith-hosted ion-adsorption deposits in which the REE are inferred to be weakly adsorbed onto clay minerals. Similar deposits elsewhere might provide alternative supply for these high-tech metals, but the adsorption mechanisms remain unclear and the adsorbed state of REE to clays has never been demonstrated in situ. This study compares the mineralogy and speciation of REE in economic weathering profiles from China to prospective regoliths developed on peralkaline rocks from Madagascar. We use synchrotron X-ray absorption spectroscopy to study the distribution and local bonding environment of Y and Nd, as proxies for heavy and light REE, in the deposits. Our results show that REE are truly adsorbed as easily leachable 8- to 9-coordinated outer-sphere hydrated complexes, dominantly onto kaolinite. Hence, at the atomic level, the Malagasy clays are genuine mineralogical analogues to those currently exploited in China.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number4386
    Pages (from-to)1-15
    Number of pages15
    JournalNature Communications
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020

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    • rare earth elements
    • ion adsorption deposits
    • yttrium
    • neodymium
    • Madagascar
    • China


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