Current European manufacturing relies heavily on imports from China for unprocessed rare earth elements (REEs). It has been suggested that the EU holds viable reserves of REEs that, with adequate research, could satisfy the majority of EU demand. Focus has been turned to the potential for similar ‘South China type’ laterite deposits being exploited in the EU, but limited exploration and understanding of EU laterite formations currently makes them unattractive to investment.
Following early research into the REE content of the Serra de Monchique Nepheline-Syenite intrusion, this project examines the clay mineralogy and geochemistry of a selection of pedogenic profiles, logging variations in mineralogy, bulk chemistry & specific REE content and comparing them to currently producing regions in Southern China. Investigation is under way using a five stage sequential leach-ICP-MS method to identify REE hosting minerals and mineralogical hosting phases, supported by XRD analysis of mineralogy and clay structures.
Results indicate similarities in clay hosted REE distributions through laterite profiles to other researched formations in Madagascar and China, where organic rich soils and biogenic profiles of tropical (rainforest) environments were presented as a key factor for REE mobilisation during pedogenesis. Serra de Monchique has a unique climate, with similar seasonal rainfall and cycling, but is not in a tropical region. It is therefore hypothesised that classic REE distribution models may also be applied to non-classic environments for this deposit type, supporting the hypothesis of Herrington that ‘China-type REE hosting Ion-adsorption clay profiles’ could exist across Europe in novel unresearched environments.