Electrokinetic mining technology for recovering rare earth elements from weathering crusts
Author: Li Yuan
Rare earth elements (REEs), especially heavy REEs (HREEs), are important in modern industry. However, the conventional mining technique applies excessive usage of ammonium-salt-based leaching agents to recover HREEs from ion-adsorption rare earth deposits (IADs), which exhibits low efficiency and devastating environmental impact on the local ecosystem. Thus, it's necessary to shift from the traditional "mountain scraping" type of mining to a new generation of green HREE mining. Recently, a research team led by Prof. He Hongping from the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed a new technique, electrokinetic mining (EKM), for the green and efficient recovery of REEs from weathering crusts. The technique exerts a voltage on the top and bottom of the IAD, which generates an electric field to accelerate REE and water migration toward the cathode.