SoS Rare

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Earth and Environment

Abstract

Rare earth elements (REE) are the headline of the critical metals security of supply agenda. All the REE were defined as critical by the European Union in 2010, and in subsequent analysis in 2014. Similar projects in the UK and USA have highlighted 'heavy' REE (HREE - europium through to lutetium) as the metals most likely to be at risk of supply disruption and in short supply in the near future. The REE are ubiquitous within modern technologies, including computers and low energy lighting, energy storage devices, large wind turbines and smart materials, making their supply vital to UK society. The challenge is to develop new environmentally friendly and economically viable, neodymium (Nd) and HREE deposits so that use of REE in new and green technologies can continue to expand.

The principal aims of this project are to understand the mobility and concentration of Nd and HREE in natural systems and to investigate new processes that will lower the environmental impact of REE extraction and recovery.

By concentrating on the critical REE, the research will be wide ranging in the deposits and processing techniques considered. It gives NERC and the UK a world-leading research consortium on critical REE, concentrating on deposit types identified in the catalyst phase as most likely to have low environmental impact, and on research that bridges the two goals of the SoS programme.

The project brings together two groups from the preceding catalyst projects (GEM-CRE, MM-FREE) to form a new interdisciplinary team, including the UK's leading experts in REE geology and metallurgy, together with materials science, high/low temperature fluid geochemistry, computational simulation/mineral physics, geomicrobiology and bioprocessing. The team brings substantial background IP and the key skills required. The research responds to the needs of industry partners and involves substantive international collaboration as well as a wider international and UK network across the REE value chain.

The work programme has two strands. The first centres on conventional deposits, which comprise all of the REE mines outside China and the majority of active exploration and development projects. The aim is to make a step change in the understanding of the mobility of REE in these natural deposits via mineralogical analysis, experiments and computational simulation. Then, based on this research, the aim is to optimise the most relevant extraction methods. The second strand looks to the future to develop a sustainable new method of REE extraction. The focus will be the ion adsorption deposits, which could be exploited with the lowest environmental impact of any of the main ore types using a well-controlled in-situ leaching operation.

Impact will be immediate through our industry partners engaged in REE exploration and development projects, who will gain improved deposit models and better and more efficient, and therefore more environmentally friendly, extraction techniques. There will be wider benefits for researchers in other international teams and companies as we publish our results. Security of REE supply is a major international issue and the challenges tackled in this research will be relevant to practically all REE deposits. Despite the UK not having world class REE deposits itself, the economy is reliant on REE (e.g. the functional materials and devices industry is worth ~£3 Bn p.a.) and therefore the UK must lead research into the extraction process. Manufacturers who use REE will also benefit from the research by receiving up to date information on prospects for future Nd and HREE supply. This will help plan their longer term product development, as well as shorter term purchasing strategy. Likewise, the results will be useful to inform national and European level policy and to interest, entertain and educate the wider community about the natural characters and importance of the REE.

Planned Impact

SoS RARE research will have an immediate economic impact by improving the prospects for the security of supply of neodymium (Nd) and the key heavy rare earth elements (HREE). The proposal has engaged six core industry partners involved in the exploration and development of new REE mines who will benefit immediately by introduction of our new exploration models and improved techniques for mineral extraction. Processing of REE raw materials is currently a major bottle neck in the value chain, and development of better methods will have an immediate impact on REE supply concerns. This will make projects more economically viable and environmentally friendly, helping to ensure a more stable supply. The four consultant company partners will gain key expertise and experience in exploration and processing which they will spread out into the wider REE mining and processing industries.

The unstable supply and cost of REE remains a major issue for manufacturers that make up a substantial part of the UK economy. A more secure supply chain will allow these manufacturers to better plan their short and long term product development. The research team will provide information on primary supplies, the likely development of future mines and how the supply chain will develop.

REE supply is a global concern. The project will have a global reach, through the industry partners involved (based in and working in the UK, Greenland, Malawi, Namibia, Spain, Canada and Australia), the core research collaborators in Germany, USA, Canada, Brazil and South Africa and wider international network links to Japan, France, and Madagascar. Diversity of supply is the key. This research proposal will place the UK as a centre in REE expertise and at the forefront of critical metals development.

The critical metals issue is requiring changes in UK Government and European Union policy, including increased support for research ion primary supplies, recycling of existing metal stocks and substitution. The impact of this research on the prospects for low environmental impact extraction of REE, diversity/security of supply and responsible sourcing will be directly relevant to future policy. The 'race' to engineer REE out of new technologies will be unnecessary and many new applications could be explored. Therefore major impact will occur at the policy level as the research guides the decision making in research funding and legislation for REE.

Few people had even heard of 'rare earths' until the issue of China restricting supply reached the news headlines in 2010, yet this family of elements are ubiquitous in digital and green technologies, from the slimmest mobile phones to giant wind turbines. We will exploit the realisation among the general public of the importance of REE towards their modern high technology life-style and demonstrate the importance of REE chemistry and geology. The REE are extremely interesting and ideal for creative and educational outputs to entertain and inform wider non-technical audiences. Encouraging the public, including school students, to learn more about REE in nature is a key part of our outreach programme.

Publications

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Makanyire T (2016) Kinetics of hydrochloric acid leaching of niobium from TiO2 residues in International Journal of Mineral Processing

 
Description We have used new theoretical approaches to obtain thermodynamic data for some important minerals rich in Rare Earth Elements (REE), which can be used to model both the conditions where they form in nature and the conditions needed to break them down to extract the metals. In the course of the project we have developed a new approach for processing monazite We have also demonstrated that refractory minerals rich in these critical metals are also broken down naturally by water at temperatures in the range 100 to 300 degrees centigrade, and established that the way in which different REE move and concentrate in such a process depends on the composition of the water involved.
Exploitation Route The outcomes fall into three classes: additions to the fundamental thermodynamic database for Rare Earth Element minerals, understanding of natural processes that lead to Rare Earth Element ore deposits, and the development of new approaches to extracting the Rare Earth Elements from their ores. The thermodynamic data is particularly relevant to mineral processing, where work on this project opens up the prospect of lower energy technologies to extract and separate the metals. Work on natural occurrences has emphasised a major sole for hydrothermal processes in concentrating the Rare Earth metals in carbonatite rocks to form ores, providing an additional criterion for exploration.
Sectors Chemicals,Environment

 
Description At an early stage in the research it became apparent there is considerable overlap between the type of work we are doing in relation to ore deposits and their extraction, and work on the disposal of radioactive waste. We have therefore made informal connections to ensure that where appropriate our work contributes to the understanding of long term disposal of radionuclides. Relevant results include extending the thermodynamic database for REE-bearing phases. Continuing work is adding to our understanding of how primary REE minerals may be processed, both in the laboratory and through natural studies of hydrothermal "beneficiation" at more modest temperatures.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description European Rare Earths Competency Network
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a guidance/advisory committee
URL http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/raw-materials/erecon/index_en.htm
 
Description E4-Crit-Mat Marie Curie Project
Amount £197,000 (GBP)
Funding ID Marie-Curie FP7 project 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 03/2013 
End 03/2015
 
Description EPSRC Industrial Case Studentship
Amount £80,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 1149064 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2011 
End 11/2015
 
Description IoM3 Stanley Elmore Scholarship
Amount £14,000 (GBP)
Funding ID Stanley Elmore 
Organisation The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2016 
End 08/2017
 
Description SoS-RARE
Amount £700,890 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/M01147X/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2015 
End 04/2019
 
Description Zambian PhD studentship
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Funding ID Yotamu Rainford Hara 
Organisation Copperbelt University 
Sector Academic/University
Country Zambia
Start 11/2010 
End 05/2014
 
Description Application of microwave processes in extractive metallurgy 
Organisation University of Nottingham
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We approached the Microwave Process Engineering Research group at the University of Nottingham to investigate if our alkali roasting process developed at Leeds could be improved in terms of energy efficiency and environmental impact using microwave technology specifically applied to the treatment of columbite group minerals.
Collaborator Contribution Our partner contributed to this research providing access to their facilities in order to measure the evolution of dielectric properties during the roasting process and giving advice on the feasibility of the process and the relationship existing between the dielectric properties and the phase transformations occurred during the alkali roasting reaction.
Impact The results of this collaboration are drafted for a paper publication with the aim of apply for further funding to follow on this research
Start Year 2014
 
Description Separation of rare earth elements using deep eutectic solvents 
Organisation University of Leicester
Department Atmospheric Chemistry Group
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We approached the Ionic Liquid Research group at the University of Leicester to develop friendly processes for the separation of rare earth elements using ionic liquids and deep eutectic solvents. We meet Prof. Andrew Abbott during the SoS minerals meeting held at the Natural History Museum in London as a consequence of his involvement in the TeaSe project. The aim of this collaboration is to investigate the use of ionic liquids for the treatment of the rare earth salts obtained after our alkali roasting treatment.
Collaborator Contribution Our partner contributed to this research providing access to their facilities and hosting Dr Sergio Sanchez-Segado during 3 months in the research group. The preliminary results obtained has shown the potential to develop a new methodology for the separation of neodymium and cerium oxides by cathodic reduction of the powders using the deep eutectic solvent ethaline E200 as electrolyte.
Impact The collaboration is in its early stage and no outcomes are still available. However, the possibility of a paper publication and further funding application will be discussed at the end of Dr Sanchez-Segado's visit
Start Year 2017
 
Description International Event - Foundation Day Lecture (CMET-Lab Hyderabad India) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The International Conference on Purification and Recycling of Electronic Materials (ICPREM-2020) is an Annual Event which has been organised on the Foundation Day of the Laboratories for the Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology. On March 8-10, 2020 the conference took place at the Hyderabad branch of the CMET labs which specialises in the purification of electronic materials. The conference attracts young researchers, general public, and professionals and experts in the field.

Honourable Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Govt. of India, Shri Ajay Sawhney, IAS has participated through video conference due to the ongoing parliamentary session. He highlighted the importance of recycling electronic materials and recovery of precious metals through scientific green and safe process. He mentioned the environmental issues created by unorganized sectors in recovering the metals from e-waste. In this connection, he called for concerted efforts by all
scientists/technologists throughout the world for coming out with viable solutions on this issue.
The conference was attended by the Chairman of the Defense LAb, IIT Hyderabad and CMET Pune, Thrishur and Hyderabad Directors.
I (Animesh Jha) gave the Foundation Day lecture on "Extraction of rare-earth oxides from titaniferous and monazite concentrates and their importance in the energy devices and systems".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Lecture to computational workshop (York) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a presentation to an interdisciplinary workshop on computational modelling and simulation of materials. It was given by Sebastian Lectez, postdoctoral researcher on the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://n8hpc.org.uk/networkeventquantumsim2017/