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Comment Separation Processes

Mining REEs from phosphogypsum

By Gerald Ondrey |

Last month, the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State; University Park, Pa.; www.psu.edu), Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland Ohio; www.case.edu) and Clemson University (S.C.; www.clemson.edu) received a $1.7-million National Science Foundation grant for a four-year project to recover rare earth elements (REEs) from phosphogypsum. Phosphogypsum is formed when phosphate rock is processed into fertilizer, and contains small amounts of naturally occurring radioactive elements, such as uranium and thorium. Because of this radioactivity, the byproduct is stored indefinitely, and improper storage can contaminate soil, water and the atmosphere. “Today, an estimated 200,000 tons of rare earth elements are trapped in unprocessed phosphogypsum waste in Florida alone,” according to Lauren Greenlee, associate professor of chemical engineering and leader of the Penn State effort along with co-principal investigator Rui Shi, assistant professor of chemical engineering. “This source of rare earth elements is presently untapped due to challenges associated with radioactive species and the difficulty of separating the individual elements,” she says. “The vision for this project is to discover new separation mechanisms, materials…
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