"SE-FLECX" Molecular Containers for Extracting Rare Earths
Research Project from the Funding Measure r4 by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
|Many high-tech products such as microprocessors for computers can´t be made without rare earth elements. The project "SE-FLECX" aims at developing a new approach for simplifying their enrichment from primary raw materials.
|Photo: Flickr / Tom Hoyle (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Rare earths are used to manufacture many high-tech products and therefore are in high demand. However, extracting them from ores is complex because their chemical and physical properties are so similar. Therefore, separating them requires intricate technical procedures. In addition, rare earth deposits often contain radioactive elements such as uranium or thorium, which must be removed efficiently before the rare earths can be processed further.
|Calixarens, so-named because of their chalice-like shape, can be tailored to exactly bind one chemical substance.
|Photo: University Leipzig / Berthold Kersting
Under the coordination of the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology experts from research and industry are testing if so-called calixarenes could be used as an alternative extraction agent in the industrial separation of rare earths. The organic macro molecules are expected to simplify the enrichment of these metals or other by-products and significantly decrease the use of process chemicals. Calixarenes, so-named because of their chalice-like shape, have the advantage that they can be tailored to exactly bind one chemical substance.
The project team tests the container molecules in solvent extraction, one of the most common methods currently used to separate and accumulate rare earths from aqueous mixed solutions. So far, these substances have been bound by adding an organic extraction agent that is also liquid. Due to the low selectivity of these traditional separating agents, the individual elements only accumulate gradually over the course of many separation stages. The use of calixarenes could reduce the number of separation stages needed to extract each element tenfold, saving not only process chemicals and energy, but also a lot of chemical waste.
The project „SE-FLECX“ belongs to the funding measure „r4 – Innovative Technologies for Resource Efficiency – Research for the Supply of Raw Materials of Strategic Economic Importance“ in the framework program „Research for Sustainable Development (FONA)“ of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
Project title: Selective liquid-liquid-extraction of lanthanoids and actinoids by using pre organized calixarens
- Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (Coordinator)
- Institute for Resource Ecology at HZDR
- TU Bergakademie Freiberg
- University Leipzig
- BASF SE
- CMI UVK GmbH
Duration: May 1st, 2015 - April 30th, 2018
Funding volume: 1.773.000 Mio. Euro
Funding code: 033R132
Funding measure: r4 – Innovative Technologies for Resource Efficiency – Research for the Supply of Raw Materials of Strategic Economic Importance