Material flow analysis applied to rare earth elements in Europe
This paper explores flows and stocks, at the scale of the European Union, of certain rare earth elements (REEs; Pr, Nd, Eu, Tb, Dy and Y) which are associated with products that are important for the decarbonisation of the energy sector and that also have strong recycling potential. Material flow analyses were performed considering the various steps along the value chain (separation of rare earth oxides, manufacture of products, etc.) and including the lithosphere as a potential stock (potential geological resources). Results provide estimates of flows of rare earths into use, in-use stocks and waste streams. Flows into use of, e.g., Tb in fluorescent lamp phosphors, Nd and Dy in permanent magnets and Nd in battery applications were estimated, for selected reference year 2010, as 35, 1230, 230 and 120 tons respectively. The proposed Sankey diagrams illustrate the strong imbalance of flows of permanent magnet REEs along the value chain, with Europe relying largely on the import of finished products (magnets and applications). It is estimated that around 2020, the amounts of Tb in fluorescent lamps and Nd in permanent magnets recycled each year in Europe, could be on the order of 10 tons for Tb and between 170 and 230 tons for Nd.