National R&D


Recovery versus environmental impacts of Rare Earth Elements derived from human activities

Principal Investigator

Carlos Vale holds habilitation/aggregation in chemical oceanography; former head of department, head of scientific council and deputy director of IPMA, and vice-president at ICES; presently is supervisor of PhDs and mentor of post-docs at CIIMAR and University of Aveiro. Associated with the Master course “Marine Sciences –Marine Resources (ICBAS). Expertise includes behaviour of contaminants in marine ecosystems, interactions with organisms, and impacts of contaminants in evolving environmental systems. He is co-author of more than 200 peer-reviewed articles and 40 book chapters.  


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The European Union has classified rare earth elements as Critical Metals because of its low abundance in Nature and the fact that mining is carried out almost exclusively by the People’s Republic of China. This may lead to a bottleneck in the world’s economy and hamper the implementation of the EU’s Energy and Technology Strategic Plan. Rare earth elements have been considered important raw material for industry and are also essential in new technologies in electronics, pharmaceuticals, industrial products and innovative technologies for environmental protection. The duality between the mining monopoly and the increasing application of rare earth elements creates ideal conditions to develop recycling and reuse processes of these elements. However, the massive use of rare earth elements in the industry also leads to their rejection through sewage and waste and are therefore considered as emerging contaminants. Studies of the cycle of these elements in the environment are few and therefore their potential impact on aquatic ecosystems is not known.
In order to address this problem, the objective established for the project is to obtain know-how to improve the recycling process of rare earth elements and, consequently, to reduce the emissions of these elements to the aquatic environment. The project aims to select chemical methodologies or biological processes with conventional or alternative application to remove rare earth elements from urban and industrial sewage. This scientific knowledge will support the recycling and later reuse of these elements in industrial processes. The project will also assess the benefits of reducing emissions of these elements to the environment. The design of this project is also innovative from the environmental point of view because the recycling and reuse process of these contaminants has a positive environmental impact.

Leader Institution
IPMA - Instituto Português do Mar e da Atmosfera
Compete 2020Portugal 2020
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