Identification of rare earth elements in synthetic and natural monazite and xenotime by visible-to-shortwave infrared reflectance spectroscopy

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To support the role of proximal and remote sensing in geological rare earth element (REE) resource exploration, we studied the reflectance spectroscopy of synthetic single- and mixed-REE phosphate phases. Synthesis yielded monazite for the elements La to Gd, and xenotime for Dy to Lu and Y. Visible-to-shortwave infrared (350–2500 nm) reflectance spectra of synthetic single-REE monazites and xenotimes can be used to identify the ions responsible for the absorption features in natural monazites and xenotimes. Nd3+, Pr3+ and Sm3+ produce the main absorption features in monazites. In natural xenotime, Dy3+, Er3+, Ho3+ and Tb3+ ions cause the prevalent absorptions. The majority of the REE-related absorption features are due to photons exciting electrons within the 4f subshell of the trivalent lanthanide ions to elevated energy levels resulting from spin-orbit coupling. There are small (< 20 nm) shifts in the wavelengths of these absorptions depending on the nature of the ligands. The energy levels are further split by crystal field effects, manifested in the reflectance spectra as closely spaced (∼ 5–20 nm) multiplets within the larger absorption features. Superimposed on the electronic absorptions are vibrational absorptions in the H2O molecule or within [OH]−, [CO3]2− and [PO4]3− functional groups, but so far only the carbonate-related spectral features seem usable as a diagnostic tool in REE-bearing minerals. Altogether, our study creates a strengthened knowledge base for detection of REE using reflectance spectroscopy and provides a starting point for the identification of REE and their host minerals in mineral resources by means of hyperspectral methods.