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Comment Separation Processes

Recovering REEs from unconventional sources

By Gerald Ondrey |

In October, researchers from Penn State and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL; Calif.; www.llnl.gov) described — in an article published in ACS Central Science — a new method that improves the extraction and separation of rare earth elements (REEs) from unconventional sources, including industrial waste, such as mine tailings and electronic waste. “In this study, we demonstrate a promising new method using a natural protein that could be scaled up to extract and separate rare earth elements from low-grade sources, including industrial wastes,” according to Joseph Cotruvo Jr., assistant professor and Louis Martarano Career Development Professor of Chemistry at Penn State, a member of Penn State’s Center for Critical Minerals, and co-corresponding author of the study. The new method takes advantage of a bacterial protein called lanmodulin (LanM), previously discovered by the research team, that is almost a billion times better at binding to REEs than to other metals. The protein is first immobilized onto tiny beads within a column to which the liquid source material is added. The protein then binds to the REEs in the sample, which allows only the rare earths to be retained in the column and the remaining liquid…
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