Last November 8th 2019, we had the pleasure to welcome Dr. Yasushi Watanabe to our Faculty. He was invited to give a talk about a topic which he is specialized in: Rare Earth Deposits and Mineralization. The talk was given in the Sala de Juntes from the Facultat de Ciències de la Terra (University of Barcelona).

Regarding to Dr. Watanabe, he is the director of the Department of Earth Resource Science, and Professor of the Graduate School of International Resource Sciences, Akita University. At the same time, he works as an Advisor and Consultant to Governments and Organizations, and, additionally, he is Committee member of the training course of the Japan Mining, Engineering and Training Center and of the Geo-Resource Information Archive System Project by Japan Space System.

His most recent research lines include, for example, “Recovery of rare earth elements from apatite ore” and “Differential fractionation of rare earth elements in oxidized and reduced granitic rocks”.

In the talk, he first started giving a short introduction about himself and the different areas in which he was worked. He continued explaining rare earth elements, and other facts related to them such as the crustal abundance of REE and their different applications. Once he finished with the introduction, he focused on the different REE deposits in China (i.e., Bayan Obo Fe-REE deposit) and all around the globe (i.e., the African Rift, Mountain Pass, Mount Weld, etc.). He also went into detail about the main REE deposits (carbonatites, hydrothermal veins, peralkaline-rock associated deposits, etc.) and exposed that ion-adsorption deposits are an important source for REE (i.e., the Longnan deposit in China).

Later on, he explained the research line in which he is working at the moment: REE production from apatite. He says apatite to be a container of REE. A deposit that hosts REE-bearing apatite is a deposit in Phalabora, which it is recorded to contain up to 7400 ppm REE in apatite, and up to 3000 ppm REE in gypsum. But he also exposed that, although there are some advantages of REE extraction from apatite, such as small capital cost required, low environmental impact, enormous resources and it is technically possible,  the extracting these types of deposits is not always successful, since the REE grade is in some cases too low to use expensive chemicals for digestion.

To finish, he expressed that, nowadays, the main objective for the mining industry is to be completely Sustainable (circular economy), but first we will have to go through some transitional stages.

Dr. Joan Carles Melgarejo, as an advisor from our Student Chapter and an assistant to the talk, gave us his opinion: “Dr. Watanabe detailed in his conference to the SEG-SGA Student Chapter in Barcelona the state of the art of the REE mining, including the geological meaning of the REE, their types of economic deposit models, uses and supply concerns. The information was up-to-date and easy to be understood for a diverse public including from undergraduate students to senior researchers.”

As the BCN-SGA-SEG Student Chapter, we are very happy to have organized this SEG Conference with Dr. Watanabe, and we would appreciate receiving him again in the future to teach us new facts about the mining industry and its long-term perspectives.

Dr. Yasushi Watanabe (center left) with the advisor from the BCN-SGA-SEG Student Chapter Joan Carles Melgarejo (center), the ex-presdient Julia Farré (right), the actual president Ariana Carrazana (center right) and the actual vicepresident Malena Cazorla (left).