Rare Earth Elements stand out in first Geochemical Map of Chile

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Rare Earth Elements stand out in first Geochemical Map of Chile

The National Geology and Mining Service of Chile (Sernageomín, in spanish) is analyzing each stream and watershed of the country, looking for the presence and concentration of 59 chemical elements on the surface. The map provides a basis for decisions on public health, land management and mineral exploration, and is an Environmental Baseline describing soils and sediments before and after the installation of human activities.

Sernageomin, the lead agency for geoscientific information in Chile, announced results of the First Geochemical Map of Chile, through which the State is providing the country with a fine environmental baseline on chemical conditions of the territory, before and after installations of human activities. The first map correspond to the territories of Arica, Iquique and Pisagua, and there are results in the areas of Vallenar and La Serena. Among the 59 items included in the map, the presence and concentration of minerals such as gold, iron and copper are evident, but there’s also presence of ‘heavy metals’.

“The importance of this Geochemical Map is that it allows very different and wide applications. For example, it is useful for making public health, environment and management of cities, for all that relates to the need to generate high quality standards of soil or the possible installation of plants with tertiary treatment of water; also it serves the mining exploration, because it gives a first indication for more advanced research, from geophysics to drilling; and it is also useful for spatial planning, because it defines potential productive potential of the soil and subsoil. This map represents an environmental baseline, characterizing the territory. Is a great contribution to public agencies, businesses, universities and citizens”, said the National Director of Sernageomin, Rodrigo Alvarez Seguel.

For his part, the head of the Sernageomin’s Geochemistry Unit and Doctor of Science from the University of Chile, Juan Pablo Lacassie, explained that “this map is prepared on the basis of surface samples of the first 30 centimeters of soil. In this first phase, the Geochemical Map includes the development of 12 ‘plans’ covering the national territory of the Cordillera de la Costa and the Intermediate Depression between the regions of Arica and Parinacota and Coquimbo. Arica, Iquique and Pisagua are the areas that have these maps first, while the ‘plans’ of La Serena and Vallenar are at issue”.

The first Geochemical Map of Chile (designed in 2009) is being conducted at a scale of 1 is 250 000 -one centimeter on the map represents two and a half kilometers in reality-. Each of these ‘plans’ reflects an area of ​​130 kilometers long and 100 kilometers wide.

A single map has a cost of 260 million pesos -417.000 dollars-, including the entire process, from the transfer of professional for field sampling until laboratory analysis and the preparation and printing of maps. In this regard, according to a report released in recent days by the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (PUC), it is estimated that every dollar invested in generating geoscience information, implies a return of $11 dollars for the country’s economy.

Presence and concentration of Rare Earth Elements

Rare Earth Elements (REE) is the common name given to a group of 18 elements that have particular properties in the periodic table. In the geochemistry ‘plans’ 16 of these elements are included: yttrium, scandium, lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium and lutetium.

The main uses of REE is currently associated with varied modern technologies, such as magnets for computers, halogen lamps, MRI equipment, screens for televisions, alloy steel, fiber optic component, radiation source X-ray devices portable, lighter (the metal that gives the spark) catalyst in petroleum refining and manufacture metal alloys, among other applications.

Despite its name, they are no less scarce than lead or gold, but they are difficult to separate from accompanying minerals, hence to be known as “Rare Earths”.

Currently, the main producer of REE is China, accounting for about 95% of world production. Because these elements are engaged in technological tools, it is estimated that demand will increase, which has led industrialized countries (USA, Germany) to seek new sources for these resources.

The potential of Chile regarding these elements has not yet been estimated. However, Sernageomi’s Geochemical Maps are already pointing to the presence of “anomalous zones” (with relatively high concentrations). There is also the possibility that the mine waste (tailings and dumps) present relatively high concentrations of REE, even though the country has not made a comprehensive assessment in this regard.

Click here for a general presentation on the first results of Geochemical Map of Chile.

SOURCE: News Sernageomín