Low Temperature Plasma Treatment for Enhanced Recovery of Highly Valued Critical Rare Earth Elements from Coal-Based Resources

Technology Partner: University of KentuckyAward Number: FE0031525
Project Duration: 11/16/2017 – 5/15/2019Total Project Value: $404,969

Key Technology Area: Separation Technologies
Project Partners: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The principal objective of this project is to develop a novel process using low-temperature plasma treatment integrated with hydrometallurgical processes to recover rare earth elements (REEs), especially highly valued REEs (e.g., scandium and critical REEs), from coal and coal by-products. The project will initially evaluate the mineralogy, leachability, and effect of plasma pretreatment for the various segments of selected feedstocks containing greater than 300 parts per million of total REEs on a dry, whole mass basis. A laboratory low-temperature oxygen plasma unit with the ability to control test conditions will be used to optimize the operating parameters of the plasma treatment process (e.g., power, temperature, treatment time, etc.) with

respect to feedstock characteristics, such as the exposed surface area, pore size, microstructure, degree of oxidation, etc. After optimizing the process, plasma treatment will be integrated with leaching, solvent extraction, and precipitation processes to produce REE concentrates at improved recovery levels and grades higher than 10 percent total REEs on a dry, whole mass basis. A techno-economic feasibility analysis of implementing plasma treatment into an overall REE recovery system will be conducted. The project, conducted at laboratory scale, has the benefit of providing key information needed to overcome challenges in larger-scale operations and further maturation of the method.

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