Rerex - Environmentally friendly high-tech metal processing
The so-called “rare earth” elements (REE) are vital to many high tech applications. The REE are a group of 17, chemically closely related elements with unique magnetic, optical, electrical and chemical properties. China dominates the REE world market from mining to metal production and is bent on monopolizing the entire value creation chain.
China curbed the export of REE drastically between 2010 and 2013, leading to a sharp rise in prices. The West has been able to counteract this to some extent with mines in the USA and Australia, at least improving the supply of so-called light rare earth elements. More difficult is securing the supply of heavy rare earth elements, specifically and above all yttrium, dysprosium, terbium and scandium.
Even though an increasing number of alternative sources of these raw materials have been identified, such as recovery from recycling and new deposits, the extraction and separation expertise required to harvest these elements is lacking outside of China and with it, the ability to obtain high purity oxides for metal making and functional materials manufacturing.
Extracting REE from recycling material and new deposits
The Rerex project aims to tackle this problem, and not only with respect to the expertise required to extract recycled raw materials and explore new deposits. The new methods promise to save resources at the same time.
First, the researchers developed different digestion and separation techniques to obtain REE in a soluble state; however, as a poly-metallic mixture. Unfortunately, because they are chemically similar, heavy rare earths are difficult to separate, making it difficult to extract high purity products.
By means of specific modifications to the extraction processes, a completely new processing technology was developed compared with the current state of technology. Thus, REE compounds can easily be solubilized and separated while at the same time reducing byproducts and emissions.
Other Consortium Partners
- ENEA, Agenzia Nazionale Per Le Nuove Tecnologie,
- L'energie e Lo Sviluppo Economico Sostenibile