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Comment Processing & Handling

A safer, cleaner way to obtain tantalum and niobium

By Gerald Parkinson |

Tantalum and niobium, which are often found in complex ores, are essentially chemically inert metals whose recovery involves some harsh measures: typically dissolution of the metals concentrate in a mixture of concentrated hydrofluoric and sulfuric acids, followed by solvent extraction with methyl- iso -butyl-ketone dissolved in kerosene. A process that is said to be safer and greener has been developed and patented by Electrochem Technologies & Materials Inc. (Montreal, Canada; www.electrochem-technologies.com). Electrochem’s process (flowsheet) recovers tantalum and niobium, plus manganese, rare-earth metals, tin and iron — ubiquitous elements found in Ta and Nb ores. Ground concentrate is digested in a molten potassium hydroxide, between 400 and 800°C. The melt resides for less than 1 h in a batch furnace or a rotary kiln to dissolve essentially all the tantalum and niobium, along with manganese and tin. The melt is then solidified and leached by an aqueous solution of KOH to extract Ta, Nb, Mn and Sn from the now-solidified melt. Undissolved solids, including Fe, Ti, Zr, thorium, uranium and rare-earth metals, are filtered out and the metals may be recovered by acid leaching and precipitation. Mn is obtained…
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