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The Southeastern United States contains numerous granites of the type that contain high concentrations of rare earth elements. We are conducting studies of these granites to advance rare earth element (REE) resource identification and assessment by resulting in an improved understanding of the fundamental source rock types, modes and occurrences, and geochemical parameters necessary for the mass transfer, accumulation, and retention of adsorbed high value REEs, heavy-REEs (HREE), and yttrium (Y) in regolith.
Finding domestic economic sources of rare earth elements will help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources. Regolith is the geologic setting of ion adsorption clay rare earth element deposits. These deposits are of increasing interest to mining industries, as evidenced by newly filed U.S. patents that cover novel separation and extraction methods for deriving rare earth elements from clays. The ion adsorption clay deposits of South China currently supply virtually all heavy rare earth elements, yttrium, and approximately 30% of Chinese light rare earth elements reaching global markets. In addition, these ores can be mined and processed at significant cost savings over other rare earth element deposit types (such as carbonatites, Bokan Mountain type ores), and their low thorium and uranium contents streamline waste disposal.
The main criteria required to form this promising deposit type are
Because source granites for the South China heavy rare earth element deposits are deeply weathered, little is known about necessary granite characteristics that are likely to yield a heavy rare earth element-enriched regolith. To find economic rare earth element ion-adsorption clay deposits in the U.S., we must determine the very specific source rock types and geochemical parameters necessary for the mass transfer, accumulation, and, most importantly, the retention of adsorbed heavy rare earth elements and yttrium in regolith.
There are very few assessment techniques to determine the regional distribution, extent, thickness, grades, and tonnages of rare earth element-enriched regolith in the southeast U.S. Also, little is known about the environmental effects of mining these deposits, or the effects of the application of modern environmentally sustainable mining technologies to these deposits.
The Southeastern United States contains numerous granites of the type that contain high concentrations of rare earth elements.
Some potential outcomes of this research:
Unconventional Resources of Rare Elements: The Bearing of Source and Process on the Genesis of Residual Deposits
Our initial studies were aimed at identifying the potential for rare earth element ion-adsorption clay type deposits in weathered granite rocks of the southeastern United States. Residual deposits, including laterites, bauxites, clays, weathered crusts, and soils, are unconventional resources for many rare earth elements that are, in general, much less well-understood compared to more conventional rare element resources. Many new and as-yet-unresolved questions regarding the occurrence, distribution and genesis of REE ion-exchange deposits were identified during this project; hence the need for continued research.
We identified plutons and prospective regolith (layer of unconsolidated rocky material covering bedrock) sites in the southeastern United States with similar geologic attributes to those of the South China ion-adsorption clay deposits -- attributes such as rock type, whole-rock chemistry, topographic setting, and accessibility. We focused on two major belts of weathered igneous rocks, selected due to their whole rock chemistries and locations:
We made significant progress in understanding the ion adsorption clay deposit type. We determined that weathering processes and prospective source rocks necessary for the development of light-medium rare earth element ion-exchange deposits do occur in granite-derived regolith of the U.S. Piedmont. Our work proved that Neoproterozoic anorogenic (A-type) granites of the southeastern U.S. are prospective source rocks for granite-derived regolith highly enriched in light-medium rare earth elements. More importantly, we identified bedrock-soil profiles enriched in light-medium rare earth elements at grades averaging ~1000 ppmrare earth elements, which are comparable to those currently being mined in South China (500-3000 ppmrare earth elements).
Below are publications associated with this project.
Below are partners associated with this project.