Biochemical and chemical methods to maximise the efficient recovery and sustainable recycling of rare-earth and lithium metals

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


Metals such as the rare-earth elements (REEs) and lithium are inherent to the advance of environmentally sustainable technologies through the exploitation of their properties in, for example wind-turbine magnets, electrically powered vehicles, flat-screen displays, and batteries. This necessity and increasing use has impacted upon the supply of these critical elements and the environmental consequences of their recovery and recycling. In this project, we will: assess bioleaching approaches to provide selective dissolution of the REEs from their ores;


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007407/1 24/09/2019 29/09/2027
2424543 Studentship NE/S007407/1 31/08/2020 30/05/2024 Joseph O'Connell-Danes
Description Rare-earth metals are increasingly crucial to the technologies which underpin the transition to 'Net-Zero'. Improving the separation of rare-earth metals is critical to improving our access to these resources. We have developed a new method for separating rare-earth metals by developing a new compound which targets a not-previously used avenue for separating the rare-earth metals from solution. The system can selectively precipitate the lighter rare-earth metals from industrially relevant acidic solutions. The separation factors for this system are some of the highest recorded for separating the rare-earths. The system shows particularly high separation factors between Neodynium and Dysprosium, a particularly important separation for the recycling of permanent magnets, such as those used in wind-turbine generators. The metal-containing precipitate can be isolated by simple filtration and the metal 'released' by the addition of water alone, allowing for the compound to be recycled for further use.

The system is a highly competitive prospect in its own right but also demonstrates a whole new avenue for developing better systems for separating the rare-earths.
Exploitation Route Based on the high degree of separation between neodymium and dysprosium, we are currently putting together data to present to industrial contacts for the application of the system to the recycling of permanent magnets. There is also potential for the lessons learnt from this work to be applied to the nuclear industry for improving high-level liquid waste (nuclear waste) separations.

On a broader note, the research outcomes present new opportunities for others in the field to take new approaches to develop improved methods for separating the rare-earths, as well as separating metals more widely.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment