Recovery of Rare Earth Elements from an Apatite Concentrate

University dissertation from Stockholm, Sweden : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: Rare earth elements (REE) are a group of 17 elements including lanthanides, yttrium and scandium; which are found in a variety of classes of minerals worldwide. The criticality of the application, lack of high grade and economically feasible REE resources and a monopolistic supply situation has raised significant attention in recovery of these metals from low grade ores and waste materials. In this thesis, the recovery of REE from an apatite concentrate, containing 0.5 mass% of REE, within the nitrophosphate route of fertilizer production has been investigated. Most of the REE (≥ 95%) content can be recovered into a phosphate precipitate with almost 30 mass% REE. Different processes have been developed to convert the REE phosphate precipitate into a more soluble form to obtain a solution suitable for further REE purification and individual separation. It has been shown that after reprecipitation of the REE phosphate concentrate as REE sodium double sulphate and then transformation into a REE hydroxide concentrate, a solution containing 45g/L REE free of Ca, Fe and P can be obtained. The results suggest that the apatite waste after processing of iron ore have the potential to be a very important source for REE in Europe and that the economy is strongly supported by the simultaneous extraction of phosphorous.The potential of using hollow fiber supported liquid membrane (HFSLM) extraction in individual and group separation of REE has been investigated. A hollow fiber supported liquid membrane plant in pilot scale has been operated according to the three main configurations: standard hollow fiber supported liquid membrane technology (HFSLM); hollow fiber renewal liquid membrane technology (HFRSLM) and emulsion pertraction technology (EPT). The standard HFSLM operation is more selective than HFRSLM and EPT, while higher metal transport rate is observed in EPT followed by HFRSLM and HFSLM. The HFRLM configuration helps to maintain the performance of the liquid membrane.