MONAZITE has had nearly go per cent pure rare-earth compound (rare-earth phosphate) it was sought at first not for the rare earths but for the sake of a minor constituent-thorium.
The thorium, essential for the Welsbach gaslight mantle, was present in only small quantities and the principal constituents, the rare earths, were largely discarded. Gradually, however, the rare earths have developed uses of their own and today have left the thorium far behind in value.
OCCURRENCE Monazite was first produced commercially about 1886, in North Carolina, where it was collected in small sluices by farmers who found it in stream beds on their land. The deposits were later exploited on a larger scale, but were mostly abandoned in a few years, when monazite from Brazil came upon the market in far larger quantities. Domestic production ceased entirely in 1906.
The Brazilian source is still active, together with Indian, Dutch East Indies, and Australian deposits. Several other localities in the United States have yielded monazite, but none of these has produced commercially as yet. Monazite occurs originally in pegmatites and gneisses, through which, unfortunately, it is scattered in highly dispersed form.
All commercially useful deposits consist of transported monazite sands liberated by erosion and concentrated by the action of water, which has sluiced away lighter materials and concentrated the heavy (D = 5.0 to 5.2) grains of monazite, together with ilmenite, zircon, garnet, and other dense minerals. The Carolina deposits were in stream beds; most of the other deposits mentioned are on or near the seashore, where the action of the waves has served to concentrate the monazite. In most cases today, the sands are worked to obtain the ilmenite and zircon, as well as monazite.
The minerals are separated by means of sluices, dry tables, and magnetic separators, and each is finally obtained nearly pure. No crushing or grinding is necessary.
The concentrates are shipped in fiber bags. COMPOSITION OF MONAZITE As Table I illustrates, monazite is the anhydrous orthophosphate of the cerium group of rare-earth elements. A small amount of yttrium and terbium group phosphate is also present.