Table of Contents
ISRN Metallurgy
Volume 2014, Article ID 907536, 10 pages
Research Article

Life Cycle Impact of Rare Earth Elements

1CSIRO Process Science and Engineering, Gate 5, Normanby Road, Clayton, VIC 3168, Australia
2EnviSolutions, 20 Galahad Crescent, Glen Waverley, Melbourne, VIC 3150, Australia

Received 19 December 2013; Accepted 14 January 2014; Published 4 May 2014

Academic Editors: M. Carboneras and P. Lukac

Copyright © 2014 P. Koltun and A. Tharumarajah. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The diverse properties of rare earth elements have seen broad and growing applications in clean energy technologies, hybrid vehicles, pollution control, optics, refrigeration, and so on. This study presents a “cradle-to-gate” life cycle assessment of the energy use, resource depletion, and global warming potential resulting from the production of rare earth elements (REEs) using the Bayan Obo rare earth operation in Inner Mongolia, China, as a representative system. The study aggregates data from the literature, LCI databases, and reasonable estimations. A novel economic value-based allocation method for the multiple coproducts of the process is proposed. It is found that four of the high priced REEs scandium, europium, terbium, and dysprosium have very high GWPs from production relative to the rest. A mass-based allocation is also provided for comparison. Impacts on immediate local environment from waste streams that can be toxic are not included in this study.