Recovery potential of rare earth elements (REEs) from the gem mining waste of Sri Lanka: A case study for mine waste management

Nimila Dushyantha, I. M. Saman K. Ilankoon, N. P. Ratnayake, H. M. R. Premasiri, P. G. R. Dharmaratne, A. M. K. B. Abeysinghe, L. P. S. Rohitha, Rohana Chandrajith, A. S. Ratnayake, D. M. D. O. K. Dissanayake, N. M. Batapola

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3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Sri Lanka is one of the wealthiest countries in terms of gems. Therefore, gem mining is extensively carried out in many areas of Sri Lanka, including districts such as Ratnapura, Monaragala, Matale, and Kalutara. During the mining process, only valuable gemstones are collected, and the remaining gravel fraction with many heavy minerals is discarded. Therefore, the gem mining industry produces a large amount of waste that is mainly used only for backfilling. To sustainably manage this waste stream, gem mining waste collected from a gem pit at Wagawatta in the Kalutara district in Sri Lanka was investigated for value recovery, specifically for rare-earth elements (REEs). The gem-bearing alluvial layer contained 0.3% rare-earth oxide (REO) that could easily be upgraded up to 2.8% (LREEs = 94%) with wet sieving and subsequent density separation via a shaking table. Therefore, the concentrates of gem mine tailings with REE-bearing minerals have the potential to be a secondary source for LREEs. The organic-rich clay layer underlying the gem-bearing alluvial layer contained 0.6% REO with 49% HREEs, including Gd, Dy, Er, Yb, and especially Y enrichments. Detailed explorations are thus necessary to assess the REE potential in Sri Lanka’s gem mining waste, and value recovery flowsheets should be subsequently developed to economically extract REEs. In addition, the presence of high U concentrations (800 mg/kg) in the concentrated samples could be alarming when considering the health and safety of the people engaged in gem mining. This aspect also requires detailed research studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1411
Number of pages13
JournalMinerals
Volume12
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

Keywords

  • gem mining waste
  • rare-earth elements
  • Sri Lankan gems
  • tailing management
  • uranium

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