Efficient, Economical, and Environmentally Friendly Technology for Producing Rare Earth Elements

Interdisciplinary Areas: Future Manufacturing, Power, Energy, and the Environment

Project Description

Rare earth elements (REEs) are the “vitamins” of many high technology products. China controls over 90% of the world’s rare earth supplies. The current method of producing REEs from ores requires mining, physical separation, and 1,000 or more mixer-settlers in series or in parallel for REE purification. It also generates large amounts of toxic waste and is not environmentally sustainable.
We are developing new chromatography technologies for producing high-purity REEs from coal fly ash and ores. Results to date indicate that 1,000 or more mixer-settlers can be replaced with a few chromatography columns, which are 100 times smaller in volume. The purification process requires 25 times less processing chemicals, and most of the chemicals are safe and can be recycled. We propose to do detailed economic and life-cycle analysis for further optimization before scaling up the process for pilot testing. The new technologies have potential to transform the REE production and purification methods and to enable the US to be independent of foreign REE supplies. 

Start Date

April 2019

Postdoc Qualifications

Knowledge or experience desired, but not required:
-Ion exchange, chromatography
-Analytical methods of metal ions
-Techno-economical analysis
-Life-cycle analysis
-Pilot plant design
1. Nien-Hwa Linda Wang
Maxine Spencer Nichols Professor, 
Davidson School of Chemical Engineering

2. John W. Sutherland
Professor and Fehsenfeld Family head
Environmental and Ecological Engineering
1. Hoon Choi, David Harvey, Yi Ding, Nien-Hwa Linda Wang, Key parameters controlling the development of constant-pattern isotachic trains of two rare earth elements in ligand-assisted displacement chromatography, J. Chromatogr. A 1563 (2018) 47–61 
2. Hoon Choi, David Harvey, Yi Ding, Nien-Hwa Linda Wang, Constant-pattern design method for the separation of ternary mixtures of rare earth elements using ligand-assisted displacement chromatography, J. Chromatogr. A. revised manuscript under review.