Rare Earth Elements – Technology Commercialization

Rare Earth Metal Extraction for Clean Technologies

Technology Partner: Lawrence Livermore National LaboratoryAward Number: TCF-17-13365
Project Duration: 10/1/2017 – 9/30/2018
Total Project Value: $300,000

Key Technology Area: Process SystemsProject Partners: Duke University

This project will focus on the scale- up and demonstration of an innovative biotechnology that relies on bacterial native systems and enhanced bioengineered features to sequester rare earth elements (REE) from low-grade sources, along with an assessment of its economic viability with feedstock from coal products. Specifically, researchers will (1) demonstrate a cell embedding system that enables an REE extraction process with fast kinetics and high extraction efficiency at the scale needed by industry; and (2) compare REE extraction performance with different feedstocks to better tailor the technology to preferred substrates for improved performance. The team will conduct a techno-economic analysis to evaluate the technology’s economic viability. A critical step in scaling up the technology will be developing a continuous flow system using embedded cells, which will allow for complete separation of REE ions from the aqueous solution in a single step. Researchers will test and compare two commonly adopted cell immobilization platforms: cell embedding and cell attachment. This comparison will include REE

adsorption density/ capacity, adsorption/desorption kinetics, and the level of background contamination by the adsorption media. The knowledge gained will help to identify and improve critical factors for REE adsorption and better inform the parameters necessary for future pilot-scale operations. In addition, identifying a preferred feedstock for the technology will help tailor the technology’s performance and conduct a more competitive techno-economic analysis. At project end, the team will be able to draw preliminary economic conclusions based on both lab-scale engineering data and relevant market information. The technology is expected to benefit from a competitive cost structure that is at least an order of magnitude less expensive than traditional extraction technologies, while offering a secure source of U.S.-based REE materials. Successful implementation of this technology has the potential to revolutionize waste-to- product conversions for low-grade REE feedstocks. It will also minimize chemical waste generation by U.S.- based mineral extraction companies and mining operations.


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