Byproduct Surplus: Lighting the Depreciative Europium in China’s Rare Earth Boom

Europium (Eu) is often regarded as a critical mineral due to its byproduct nature, importance to lighting technologies, and global supply concentration.

Byproduct Surplus: Lighting the Depreciative Europium in China’s
Rare Earth Boom

Qiao-Chu Wang, Peng Wang, Yang Qiu, Tao Dai, and Wei-Qiang Chen*

Environmental Science & Technology

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.124221

Abstract

Europium (Eu) is often regarded as a critical mineral due to its byproduct nature, importance to lighting technologies, and global supply concentration. However, the existing indicator-based criticality assessments have limitations to capture Eu’s supply chain information and thus fall short of reflecting its true criticality. This study quantified the flows and stocks of Eu in mainland China from 1990 to 2018. Results show that: (1) China’s Eu demand decreased by 75% from 2011 to 2018, as a result of the lighting technology transition from fluorescent lamps to light-emitting diodes, which significantly reduced Eu’s importance; (2) the supply of Eu mined as a byproduct kept increasing together with the growing rare earth production, which caused a substantial supply surplus being ≈1900 t by 2018; (3) despite the leading role of China in global Eu production, Eu mined in China was exported mainly in the form of intermediate and final products, and ≈90% Eu embedded in domestically produced final products was used for export recently. This study indicates that Eu’s criticality is not as severe as previously assessed and highlights the necessity of material flow analysis for a holistic and dynamic view on the entire supply chain of critical minerals.

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