Rare earths are now essential to advanced technologies and "Green growth" but the strong development of these areas blew the demand for these metals. So damaging for Europe china almost completely controls their production.
Prior to imagine a full substitution of these metals it is necessary to quickly reduce tensions in this market to consider recycling from industrial waste. These wastes containing these rare earths are now described as «urban mines". This recycling from waste is already operating in France on an industrial level (by Rhodia) with mechanical and physical processes finalized ( after dissolution in acid medium ) by liquid- liquid extraction.
The ICMMO and IRAMIS laboratories propose here an innovative process that may be efficient for the recycling industry. It concern to complete and/or to replace of the usual liquid-liquid extraction technology of these metals by a solid-liquid technology much more easily and may even, after evaluation, to be more efficient. The principle of the transition between the two technologies can be presented simply. There are molecular materials with high specificity able to complex efficiently metal ions. In a liquid-liquid extraction those molecular materials are dispersed and exchanged between the liquid phases but the final separation is complex and multi-stepped. The recent possibility to immobilize these molecular materials on solid surfaces lead to directly capture target ions whose future separation from the liquid will be much simpler.
To the above mentioned economic aspects which are already an important part of the problem are now added by environmental and public health problems. As well as the risks involved with heavy metals already well known as copper, nickel and especially now by hexavalent chromium, toxicity of rare earths until recently ignored would join the list of metals already subject to regulation. It becomes really critical to prepare alternative management techniques.
Both partners have a common and recent laboratory experience of this extraction/concentration technological leap applied for effluents containing cesium (nuclear applications). Still earlier IRAMIS has experience in the industrial reprocessing of liquid wastes from surface treatment industries (Cu , Zn , Ni) . It would be in this program to build on these past experiences and benefit to the problem of recycling of rare earths this expertise. The aim of this program is to get with the recycling of rare earths level demonstration laboratory scale (TRL 3-4) that would be relevant enough to launch programs aimed at greater technological readiness level (TRL 5-6).
At the end of the program designed to "stimulate industrial revival" a development strategy is already expected. Partnerships with industry and government stakeholders are taking place and the creation of a company is also envisaged.
Laboratoire d'Innovation en Chimie des Surfaces et Nanosciences (Laboratoire public)
The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.
Laboratoire d'Innovation en Chimie des Surfaces et Nanosciences
Institut de Chimie Moléculaire et des Matériaux d'Orsay
Help of the ANR 170,925 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2014 - 24 Months