Application of ionic liquid-liquid chromatography (ILLC) to extractions of metals

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Chemical Engineering

Abstract

The separation of and isolation of metals is one of the first areas of human scientific endeavour. With limited resources on earth, particularly of noble metals together with the ever increasing demand for their use, new technologies that allow them to be produced, recycled and reused are urgently needed. Also, lanthanide and actinide elements are being required in ever increasing quantities in the electrical, electronic and nuclear industries. This proposal describes the development of a new general purpose methodology for the separation of metal compounds and salts. This allows metals recovered from waste such as catalytic converters, electronic scrap, or even from metal ores to be separated and isolated in a pure form that can eventually be put back into commercial use.

The metal separations use the new technology of ionic liquid-liquid chromatography (ILLC) which is an advanced form of countercurrent chromatography (CCC), which uses ionic liquids as one of the phases. Ionic liquids (ILs) have unique properties that can overcome the problems associated with the use of conventional organic solvents in separations. They are composed entirely of ions, are liquid at or near room temperature and can dissolve a wide range of organic and inorganic molecules, especially metal salts. Importantly, ILs have no measurable vapour pressure at ambient temperatures and are generally non-flammable. The relatively high costs of ILs have prevented their extensive use in continuous large-scale systems. Intensified technologies (which require less solvent), will allow the benefits of ILs to be exploited. One such intensified technology is counter current chromatography. Because of their high viscosities, the application of ionic liquids in counter current chromatography systems has been very limited and usually in solution in low viscosity solvents, which negates the purpose of the IL. This limitation was solved at QUILL in collaboration with AECS, to produce a unique, ionic liquid-liquid chromatography system (ILLC). In the proposed research project innovative intensified extraction technologies which combine the unique solvent properties of ionic liquids with the high performance of ILLC will be investigated for the separation of metals (noble, lanthanides, uranium).
The research will be carried out by two teams which are QUILL in Northern Ireland and UCL in London. The collaboration will be strengthened by the involvement of AECS, which will design and build the ILLC instruments based on the project needs. ILLC is a new high performance separation technology that will be studied under this joint proposal in two separate ways. QUILL will carry our research into the direct metal separations and their scale up for commercial use, and design and produce ionic liquids necessary for the research proposed. UCL will study the hydrodynamic and mass transfer phenomena in ILLC and develop predictive models of the process that can be used to maximise the performance. High speed imaging and Laser Induced Fluorescence (LIF) studies will help elucidate the flow and mixing regimes in ILLC separations. Factors such as how flow rates, instrument parameters, ionic liquid and solvent properties and choices affect separations and will be investigated.
The results of the QUILL and UCL studies will be combined to generate scale up protocols for metal separations with the ultimate goal of developing separations that are more efficient, have lower energy demand and use safer less noxious solvents that are currently used in the metal separation industry.
 
Description • Design and construction of prototype two-dimensional countercurrent chromatography (2D CCC) instrument that allows visualisation studies.
• Details of the phase distribution, settling and mixing characteristics of two-phase mixtures, and phase retention within the coils for different solvent systems and operational conditions.
• Ionic liquid based solvent system optimised by QUILL for metal processing exhibited unique and unexpected hydrodynamic behaviour in comparison to traditional biphasic solvent systems also investigated.
• The results were used to understand the performance of CCC and to design ionic liquids for separations in different applications (including energy and pharmaceuticals). They also aid the design of scale up systems.
Exploitation Route The results of this work may be useful in the design and operation of certain CCC instrumentation for ionic liquid based extractions in a wide range of applications in addition to metal processing.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/chemical-engineering/thames-advanced-multiphase-systems
 
Description In the project we demonstrated that ionic liquids can be used as alternatives to organic solvents for the separation (extraction) of metals in countercurrent chromatography (CCC). We also showed that a new type of CCC that has a two-dimensional column (2D CCC) can result in efficient separations compared to the standard three dimensional CCC (3D CCC). In addition, 2D CCC allows the visual observation of the mixing and settling patterns of the liquids inside the coils of the column. These can help understand the separation performance of the column. Based on these studies we found that ionic liquids form different patterns compared to conventional solvents. These findings have helped identify ionic liquid systems that are suitable for the separation of metals for a wide range of applications (including spent nuclear fuel separations and healthcare. The detailed studies of the hydrodynamics in the column have helped the design of the scale up systems.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Chemicals,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
 
Description Continuous intensified solvent extraction in phrmaceutical processes using hydrophobic water microemulsions from ionic liquids
Amount £85,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EPSRC Voucher code 19000102 
Organisation Johnson Matthey 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 08/2021
 
Description Novel intensified liquid-liquid contactors for mass transfer in sustainable energy generation
Amount £195,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P034101/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2017 
End 12/2018
 
Description UK Japan Civil Nuclear Energy Collaboration Phase 4
Amount £253,038 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R019223/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 03/2020
 
Description IProPBio 
Organisation Federal University of Paraná
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Expertise on intensified processes and particularly on liquid-liquid reactions and separations. Access to equipment for intensified processes.
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge of thermodynamics, phase equilibrium measurements and thermodynamic modeling. Also process synthesis and optimization for the design of biorefineries
Impact This is an international collaboration with partners from Europe, US and Brazil. The consortium has formed to apply for funding for the design, optimization and operation of sustainable biorefineries for multi product portfolios.
Start Year 2017
 
Description IProPBio 
Organisation University of Patras
Department Department of Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics
Country Greece 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Expertise on intensified processes and particularly on liquid-liquid reactions and separations. Access to equipment for intensified processes.
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge of thermodynamics, phase equilibrium measurements and thermodynamic modeling. Also process synthesis and optimization for the design of biorefineries
Impact This is an international collaboration with partners from Europe, US and Brazil. The consortium has formed to apply for funding for the design, optimization and operation of sustainable biorefineries for multi product portfolios.
Start Year 2017
 
Description IProPBio 
Organisation University of Southern Denmark
Country Denmark 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Expertise on intensified processes and particularly on liquid-liquid reactions and separations. Access to equipment for intensified processes.
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge of thermodynamics, phase equilibrium measurements and thermodynamic modeling. Also process synthesis and optimization for the design of biorefineries
Impact This is an international collaboration with partners from Europe, US and Brazil. The consortium has formed to apply for funding for the design, optimization and operation of sustainable biorefineries for multi product portfolios.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering Annual Advisory Board Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Poster presentation of research work which sparked questions and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.natureinspiredengineering.org.uk/news/cnie-annual-advisory-board-meeting-and-conference
 
Description Chemical Engineering Dept. Industrial Advisory Board Meeting (poster competition) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation of research which sparked questions and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Mexican Society Engineering Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dissemination of the research work on intensified liquid-liquid processes in front of a wide audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Poster competition 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation of research work within the UCL.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We created a website to expose our research activities on the flow and transport phenomena in complex two-phase systems.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/multiphase-advances-research/index