Recovering rare earth elements from contaminated soils: Critical overview of current remediation technologies

Ana Teresa Lima*, Lisbeth M. Ottosen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewpeer-review

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Rare earth elements (REE) are essential for sustainable energies such as solar and wind power, with rising demand due to the ambitious goal for a circular society. REE are currently mined from virgin ores while REE-rich contaminated soil is left untreated in the environment. Soil remediation strategies are needed that concomitantly cleanup soil and harvest metals that contribute to process circular economy. In this review we aim to (i) define REE concentrations in contaminated soils as well as (ii) identify soil remediation techniques used in remediating REE from soils, emphasizing the ones that extract REE. Current literature lists REE polluted soils in the vicinities of REE mines, coal mines, high traffic roads and agricultural soils (due to REE association with phosphate fertilizers). We first list the conventional separation methods used in the mining industry and their main strategies in extracting/precipitating REE. Solvent extraction is the most commonly conventional method used followed by electrodeposition of REE at high temperatures. We then highlight soil remediation techniques that are used to treat REE. These techniques can be separated into two types: the ones that (a) stabilize REE in soils, and the ones that (b) extract REE from soils. Bioremediation, soil amendments and others offer stabilization of REE, eventually creating a legacy problem since REE keep accumulating in the soil. Soil remediation techniques that achieve REE extraction are a step closer to resource recovery, contributing to the circularity of REE. Techniques such as phytoremediation, soil washing and electrokinetic treatment show promising extraction results.
Original languageEnglish
Article number129163
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Soil
  • Extraction techniques
  • Phytoremediation
  • Electrokinetics
  • REE recovery


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