The project aims to:
Improve European supply of critical Rare Earth Elements (REE’s) (Y, Nd, Tb and Dy)
Strengthen European SME positions in the REE production and recovery value chain
Innovate and research two different routes for hydro/pyro metallurgical recovery of REE’s: as Rare Earth Oxides (REO) or Rare Earth Oxy-Carbides (REOC) in electrolytic reduction.
Demonstrate and compare viability and potential for these routes on two different types of deposited industrial wastes, i.e.:
- tailings from the iron ore industry (high volume but low concentration of REE)
- magnetic waste material from the WEEE recycling industry (low volume but high concentration REE)
Apatite-containing tailings represent a group of industrial waste materials with high volume but relatively low REE concentration, which are currently deposited. Measurements in the large tailings deposit of LKAB in Kiruna, representing a volume of ~8 Mtons per year, have shown that these tailings contains 4-8 % apatite (P2O5) and 1200-1500 ppm REE, i.e. representing an approximate content of 10-15 ktons of REE annually.
Kiruna alone represents an enormous potential of REE supply, but in addition, technologies developed for recovering REE’s also apply to tailings produced at the LKAB Svappavaara and Malmberget operations (with as yet little-known REE content), and to other low REE-bearing apatite ore such as in Kola Peninsula, Russia (contains over 4000 ppm REEs). The economic potential is very large, though hard to estimate. By selecting mining tailings as a resource, the high volumes that are now a burden to the ecosystem can be utilized as valuable resources for other industries.
Currently, nearly all REE comes from winning by flotation of bastnaesite, which is a fluoro-carbonate dominated by light REE. REE associated with apatite-magnetite iron ores is a new potential resource, which is indigenous for the EU, but is not yet being extracted due to lack of cost-effective processes and technology.
In WP1, LKAB and the WEEE recycling industry, providing input streams, will collaborate with LTU & NTNU to increase the REE concentration by physical separation, leading to low-grade REE-bearing input streams. WP1 will work on flotation of apatite concentrates with REE for various conditions and Particle Texture Analyses of flotation products to reveal REE mineralogy and associated flotation response. Also, trials with other physical separation methods to separate REE minerals and materials that do not respond to flotation will be conducted.
In terms of REE in WEEE scrap, there is currently no systematic European approach for recovery and automatic physical separation. In WP1, shredding, separation and delivery of WEEE scrap containing REE magnets to other WP:s within the project will be carried out. Trials with different de-magnetizing methods based on magnetic coils and selective cooling will be tried with the goal to get a dry and temporarily non-magnetic material that may be separated with physical methods.