Critical Advances in Rare Earth Element Recovery from Aqueous Sources

C.J. Boxley, D.E. Hogan
GlycoSurf, Inc.,
United States

Keywords: glycolipids, wastewater, raffinate, rare earth metals, biosurfactants


Industrial processes produce difficult to treat wastewater containing environmental contaminants in the form of dissolved metals, many of which pose a potential health hazard to plants, animals, and humans. Examples include mining industry effluents, wastewater treatment effluents and landfill leachates. In many cases, these waste streams cannot be treated cost effectively. Remediation of these waste streams is traditionally accomplished through a variety of technologies ranging from chemical precipitation to membrane filtration. However, none of these treatment technologies is designed to extract trace metals, such as rare earth elements, to support the critical demand for these metals. GlycoSurf, and its partners, have developed a proprietary process to manufacture green bioinspired metal-selective sugar-based surfactants that are capable of efficient and cost-effective removal of toxic metals (such as uranium) AND rare earth elements (REE) from wastewater solutions. This new technology is capable of removing both light and heavy REEs, all of which are metals of strategic importance to the US. Additionally, GlycoSurf's treatment process facilitates water reuse through removal of toxic metals from waste streams. Our research data using complex real-world solutions, has demonstrated that rhamnolipids are highly effective at capturing both rare earths and heavy metals, even in the presence of common soil cations such as sodium, potassium, and calcium (which are present in orders-of-magnitude higher concentrations).