The March issue of National Geographic Spain addresses on its cover, editorial and extensive interior report one of the most coveted and strategic elements of the 21st century technology industry from clean energy, telecommunications to biomedicine: the so-called “rare earths”. Known as the “vitamins of the industry”, these 17 elements of the periodic table are really nothing strange and they are strategic metals whose research, both from the exploration of their mineral resources to their numerous technological applications, is of vital importance.
From photovoltaic solar panels to essential magnets in electric cars and wind turbines, the long-awaited energy transition towards clean energy is not possible without this resource. From the University of La Laguna, the MAGEC-REEsearch project has been led for ten years, whose main researcher is the professor of the Department of Physics, Jorge Méndez. A multidisciplinary and interuniversity project coordinated with the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, through the professor of geology at the IOCAG José Mangas, as well as with the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) with Jesus Rivera and the Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelonathrough Marc Campeny, a geologist who is an expert in research into the deposits of these critical elements.
MAGEC-REEsearch is in the initial phase of a geological exploration project with facets of mineralogy, petrology and geochemistry, to find out what type of minerals that form the rocks these “rare earths” contain. This phase provides strategic information to know the potential resources of these “critical metals” that the Canary Islands may have, that is, if the potential resources that the project team has already found (especially on the surface of Fuerteventura, as well as in seamounts of Canary Islands), can be transformed into reserves and mineral deposits with economic profitability.
On the other hand, with respect to research in nanotechnology, photonics and renewable energies, the project covers the design, characterization and synthesis of luminescent materials that contain these “rare earth” elements, with the aim of improving the efficiency in the generation of “green hydrogen” with solar energy (“artificial photosynthesis”) and “solar fuels” through water photocatalysis processes. To this end, the traditional salt pans of the Canary Islands are also being explored as a natural laboratory, as seawater solar photoreactors for the sustainable and renewable generation of hydrogen.
All this double dimension of the MAGEC-REEsearch project is widely covered in the report on “rare earths” of the recently published March issue of National Geographic Spain magazine.