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The trend towards renewable energies & the role of rare earths: How sustainable is it? China as an example!

The global turnaround in the energy industry shows clear tendencies towards the further integration of renewable energy alternatives. While China is especially known for being the worldwide biggest producer and consumer of hard coal, it is also going high speed for the renewables. The recently announced goal of climate neutrality seems to support this new path. This is because a closure of hard coal mines and their substitution by renewable energies is being touted as the future potential of a green economic transition. Yet the rare earths used in large quantities for this are anything but green or recyclable. An example of the potential and the impact on ecology and human health of the rapidly increasing development and integration of renewable alternatives can be shown with the help of an exemplary life cycle assessment at the Bayan Obo Mine in Baotou, Inner Mongolia. Here, it is clear that the negative effects are long term and have a strong influence not only over land, air and water, but also on human development through induced diseases and inhibition of development. The method of the life cycle assessment is still highly underrepresented in this research field and needs more reliable data and calculations for improved policy decisions and strategic action in the future.


Julia Tiganj1, Tobias Rudolph1
1Technische Hochschule Georg Agricola University, Germany
GeoMinKöln 2022