The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
Tuesday, 28 November 2023 21:00

ORNL separates rare earth from the chaff

Membrane solvent extraction process schematicMembrane solvent extraction schematic.   ORNL

OAK RIDGE Caldera Holding, the owner and developer of Missouri’s Pea Ridge iron mine, has entered a nonexclusive research and development licensing agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to apply a membrane solvent extraction technique, or MSX, developed by ORNL researchers to process mined ores. MSX provides a scalable, efficient way to separate rare earth elements, or REEs, from mixed mineral ores.

The MSX technology was pioneered at ORNL by researchers in the Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Innovation Hub, or CMI, led by Ames National Laboratory. The inventors, Ramesh Bhave and Syed Islam of ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division are named in 26 inventions and five active licenses related to the recovery of REEs.

REEs are a group of 17 lanthanide elements used in several technologies critical to global economic competitiveness such as electronic devices, wind turbines, electric vehicle motors, medical imaging, optics and advanced defense systems. Separated REEs are essential constituents of the neodymium-based magnets, also known as NdFeB, used in permanent magnets that operate in extreme conditions. Heavy REEs including terbium, dysprosium and holmium are required for electric vehicle motors and advanced defense systems but currently must be procured from foreign suppliers.

“Developing a domestic supply of these elements is critical to a range of clean energy and national security technologies,” said Cynthia Jenks, associate laboratory director for physical sciences. “ORNL is focused on expanding supply through the development of innovative technologies.”