The rare earth element (REE) mineralisation potential of highly fractionated rhyolites: A potential low-grade, bulk tonnage source of critical metals

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Ore Geology Reviews



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The rare earth elements (REE) have become crucial for modern industry, technology and medicine, with the increase in demand for these elements over the past few years currently being met by relatively few well-known mineral deposits. This lack of a secure supply of the REE has led to increased research into potential alternative sources of these in demand elements. The primary fractionation processes involved in the petrogenesis of highly fractionated high-silica rhyolites can cause the magmas that form these units to become preferentially enriched in the REE, especially in the more valuable heavy REE (HREE), although this is dependent on the mineral assemblages fractionated by the system in question, a factor that is in turn a function of the source and tectonic setting of a given magmatic event. The mineralogy of the REE is also important, with volatile exsolution and vapour-phase activity within highly evolved rhyolite systems potentially having a key role in concentrating the REE and other elements into concentrations (and more importantly potentially acid leachable and therefore processable minerals) that may be economically viable to extract. This, combined with the fact these rhyolites are often enriched in other critical and/or economically important metals (e.g., Y, Nb, Ta, Be, Li, F, Sn, Rb, Th, and U) means that these volcanic units should be considered as potential sources of these critical metals. In addition, the large volume nature of these rhyolites combined with the fact they frequently crop out at the Earth's surface makes them ideally suited for more economical bulk open pit extraction. This suggests that these high-silica REE-enriched rhyolites should be considered potential REE analogues of bulk-tonnage, low-grade porphyry Cu deposits, warranting further investigation to determine whether these rhyolites are a viable new source of the REE (especially the HREE) and are potential targets for future mineral exploration. © 2017 Elsevier B.V.



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