Research is active on the development and application of basic immobilized amine sorbents (BIAS) for use in the recovery of rare earth elements (REEs) from aqueous systems. This invention is available for licensing and/or further collaborative research from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.
REEs are essential to our national security, energy independence, environmental future, and economic growth. These elements are an integral component of many high-technology products such as smart phones, lasers, computer hard drives, and medical devices.
REEs are considered rare because they are found in relatively low concentrations and require further processing, which is technically and economically challenging. Control of the world’s operating REE mines is heavily consolidated, which has resulted market insecurities.
The demand for REEs has grown significantly, stimulating a need for economically feasible approaches for REE recovery from domestic sources. Current methods for the recovery of REEs are flawed—some rely on expensive raw materials and/or equipment, others produce inferior REEs recovered from aqueous streams. There is a need for new methods that can rapidly, accurately, and economically recover REEs from aqueous environments.
This invention describes the synthesis and use of BIAS sorbents containing a polyetheylenimine (PEI) species covalently attached to a silica surface via a reactive chemical linker. The covalent and water stable PEI-Linker-silica species resists degradation and leaching by water in an aqueous system containing REEs, which are captured by PEI’s amine functional groups (-NH2, -NH, -N).
Compared to existing sorbent materials, the new BIAS materials are easily prepared, structurally stable, recyclable over multiple cycles, and capable of capturing a variety of REEs from flowing aqueous streams with low REE concentrations. These low cost, scalable, and robust materials show promise for commercial-scale processes involving REE capture from flowing aqueous streams or stagnant aqueous environments.
U.S. Patent Pending (non-provisional patent application)
Title: Stable Immobilized Amine Sorbents for REE and Heavy Metal Recovery from Liquid Sources
Inventors: McMahan Gray, Brian Kail, Walter C. Wilfong, Qiuming Wang
NETL Reference No: 16N-10
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