The process of extracting rare-earth metals is very disruptive to the environment. The rare earth elements are mined using the open pit mining technique which involves the opening of the surface of the earth using heavy equipment and machinery. During the refining process, there are a lot of byproducts let out into the atmosphere thus polluting it. Extracting rare earth elements is a complex process which involves the use of various acids, solvents and other chemical based materials. There is enormous water and energy consumption during the entire process. The entire procedure can produce large amounts of waste water, waste gas and other forms of waste residue.
On February 10, 2014, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China issued the Cleaner Production Technology Promotion Plan for the Rare Earth Industry. According to the Plan, China aims to speed up the industrial application and promotion of the process of separation of low-carbon and low-sodium free ammonia nitrogen rare earth oxide and purification technology along with finalizing the demonstration of the industrial application of rare earth metal ore. This is done in order to reduce the acid-base requirement in rare earth melting and the separation process thus improving the comprehensive use of the rare-earth resources by 2017.
The Chinese government has insisted that the relevant departments should speed up the implementation and promotion of the rare earth advanced clean production technology application for the betterment of the environment. The industrial technological level of China, in the process of rare earth mining, smelting and separating has made prompt progress in this sector. The implementation of this plan can save 120,000 tons of hydrochloric acid, 373,000 tons of sodium hydroxide or 50,000 tons of ammonia per year. The implementation of the Cleaner Production Technology Promotion Plan for the Rare Earth Industry is a priority for the country’s government.