Techno-Economic Assessment for Integrating Biosorption into Rare Earth Recovery Process

The current uncertainty in the global supply of rare earth elements (REEs) necessitates the development of novel extraction technologies that utilize a variety of REE source materials. Herein, we examined the techno-economic performance of integrating a biosorption approach into a large-scale process for producing salable total rare earth oxides (TREOs) from various feedstocks. An airlift bioreactor is proposed to carry out a biosorption process mediated by bioengineered rare earth-adsorbing bacteria. Techno-economic assessments were compared for three distinctive categories of REE feedstocks requiring different pre-processing steps. Key parameters identified that affect profitability include REE concentration, composition of the feedstock, and costs of feedstock pretreatment and waste management. Among the 11 specific feedstocks investigated, coal ash from the Appalachian Basin was projected to be the most profitable, largely due to its high-value REE content. Its cost breakdown includes pre-processing (leaching primarily, 77.1%), biosorption (19.4%), and oxalic acid precipitation and TREO roasting (3.5%). Surprisingly, biosorption from the high-grade Bull Hill REE ore is less profitable due to high material cost and low production revenue. Overall, our results confirmed that the application of biosorption to low-grade feedstocks for REE recovery is economically viable.
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DOE Project Name: Extraction of Rare Earth Metals from Geothermal Fluids using Bioengineered Microbes
DOE Project Number: LLNL FY17 AOP
DOE Project Lead: Holly Thomas
Last Updated: over a year ago
Data from October, 2017
Submitted Jan 9, 2018

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory




Yongqin Jiao
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Hongyue Jin
Purdue University
Dan Park
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Mayank Gupta
Purdue University
Aaron Brewer
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Lewis Ho
Bioreactor Sciences
Suzanne Singer
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
William Bourcier
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Sam Woods
Navajo Transitional Energy Company
David Reed
Idaho National Laboratory
Laura Lammers
University of California Berkeley
John Sutherland
Purdue University


geothermal, energy, TEA, resource recovery, REE, rare earth, brine, tailings


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