Waste Coal Ash Could Provide Wealth of Rare Earth Elements

Purdue University

Professor Linda Wang, Maxine Spencer Nichols Professor of Chemical Engineering

Purdue University researcher patents efficient and inexpensive technology that shows great promise in extracting rare earth elements from waste coal ash – critical components of many electronics and green products.
This innovation addresses the challenges of recycling coal ash in an environmentally friendly way and provides necessary rare earth elements for the production of mobile products and devices valued at more than $4 trillion per year.

Rare earth elements (REE) largely consist of Lanthanides (Lns), a series of 15 metallic elements. “REEs have many important applications such as permanent magnets in power generation and electric cars, batteries, petroleum refining catalysts, phosphors in color televisions, and many electronics including cellphones,” “The demand for REEs is predicted to grow dramatically over the next several decades,”

The process developed involves new chromatography separation techniques using ligand-assisted elution or displacement chromatography methods with robust, low-cost, inorganic sorbent titania or polymeric sorbents.

“These new processes can effectively separate REEs with purities and yields greater than 95 percent”. “Using titania sorbents is what makes this innovation unique. They are robust and inexpensive, making the processes efficient and affordable. We are the first group in the world who developed this technology. Additionally, the byproducts of our process include silica gel, aluminum oxide, and other metal oxides of commercial value, making the overall process profitable and economical.”

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