Oct 26, 2023

Separation Technologies: The future of Rare Earth Element Isolation

GlycoSurf, Inc. and its project partners, Dr. Timothy Dittrich at Wayne State University, and Dr. Sanjay Mohanty at UCLA, were recently awarded a Phase II grant from the Department of Energy for the research and development for a system designed to individually separate high purity (ISHP) rare earth elements (REEs).

As the green economy continues to develop, commercialized REEs are becoming a critical aspect to many industrial applications including: high technology devices, clean energy, electric vehicles, and manufacturing. However, the process to extract and recover REEs from traditional sources (i.e. mining ore), such as: bastnaesite (La, Ce)FCO3, monazite (Ce, La, Th)PO4, and xenotime YPO4, is process intensive and presents numerous challenges. Worldwide, there are currently several physical and chemical methods employed to separate the materials of interest from gangue material, which generally leads to the production of a mixed rare earth oxide concentrate. The mixed rare earth concentrate then undergoes a separate process to isolate the individual rare earth elements into high-purity materials for use in commercial applications.

Project Description

GlycoSurf Inc. is currently working with its project partners to develop a new class of sorption media, and a process to separate REEs that will result in individual high-purity rare earth oxide (REO) powders. This new class of sorption media will combine two classes of ligands:

  1. glycolipids
  2. DTPA analogs

These ligands are synthesized in-house for fundamental testing to separate the concentrate into individual REEs. Current liquid-liquid separations for REOs employ hundreds to thousands of solvent extraction steps with mixer/settlers; however, with the new process, the team anticipates ten to fifteen steps being required to produce materials with a REO purity of  > 90%.

Project Benefits

Using unconventional sources of material for rare earth extraction into concentrates, such as fly ash, reduces the demand for rare earth extraction from traditional mined ore bodies. Presently, solvent extraction is the only commercial process for separating the concentrates into high purity materials; however, its challenges include high costs, high energy inputs, and significant waste products that include large volumes of organic solvents. This project/research aims to:

  • Use novel ligands to isolate and separate rare earths from a MREO concentrate
  • Reduce cost
  • Reduce or eliminate the use of organic solvents
  • Enable domestic production of high purity rare earth elements
  • Expand the technology from bench-scale to pilot-scale testing of the isolation of higher purity individual REOs

Here you can find the DOE summary.

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