Rare Earth Elements – a Novelty in Energy Security
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Faculty of National Security, War Studies University, Al. Chruściela 103, 00-910 Warsaw, Poland
Publication date: 2020-05-01
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Radosław Bielawski   

War Studies University, Warsaw, Poland
J. Ecol. Eng. 2020; 21(4):134-149
This study analyses the role of rare earth elements (REE) as critical resources for the energy security. This research presents the developments in the global REE extraction, i.e. the dominance of the Republic of China, which attempts to maintain and control its monopoly. Typical and novel uses of rare earth metals are presented in various applications, such as in advanced electronic and information technologies utilised in the aerospace and energy industries. Bearing in mind their vital importance to the manufacture of high-tech products, REE deposits are of strategic importance for the USA, the Republic of China and for the European Union. Striving to maintain the independence of raw materials, the USA is focused on the search for raw materials on its territory and furthermore on waving legal restrictions with respect to their extraction. China is primarily occupied with maintaining the monopoly and control of the global market of critical raw materials, including REE. The activities within the European Union concentrate on exploration in search for REE deposits in Europe and ensuring continuity of supplies by maintaining good diplomatic relations with partners – the USA and Japan. In addition, extensive REE recycling initiatives are undertaken in the EU. Further rare earth metals extraction is anticipated to extend to outer space. However, what remains the major challenge faced by space mining is to develop economically viable methods of extraction, given that it requires establishing an expensive, permanent space infrastructure. What is more, mining and processing of rare earth metals raises serious environmental concerns, as it involves such hazards as radioactive products, toxic chemical compounds and waste generation. With respect to environmental protection, this study also addresses the issues of REE substitutes and recycling. It is concluded that the environmental protection practices regarding long-term extraction and use of REE (with a 2030 horizon) will prove to bring substantial long-term financial benefits.
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