Researchers develop method to extract rare earth elements from industrial waste

Kim Joo-heon Reporter() | Posted : January 19, 2022, 17:36 | Updated : January 19, 2022, 17:48

[Courtesy of the National Research Foundation of Korea]

SEOUL -- It's been difficult to selectively recover rare earth elements from industrial waste. Many approaches have been studied, but they used solvents to cause environmental pollution or to recover rare earth elements once. Researchers developed a new solvent-free and eco-friendly method to extract rare earth elements from industrial waste. 

A research team led by Kwon In-chan, a professor of protein engineering at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, has developed a platform that can selectively and repeatedly recover rare earth elements from industrial by-products, according to the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF).

The simple and innovative approach for the selective extraction and recovery of rare earth elements was possible by fusing elastin‐like polypeptide and lanmodulin, a high-affinity lanthanide-binding protein. The protein adsorbent is naturally decomposed to minimize the problem of environmental pollution.

"Existing technologies have problems that it is difficult to selectively recover rare earth elements and damage the environment due to the use of large amounts of solvents. Or it is difficult to reuse eco-friendly bio-absorbents," Kwon said in an NRF statement. "We've developed an eco-friendly, selective, and reusable adsorbent that almost overcomes these problems."

Even when used repeatedly a certain number of times, the rare earth recovery efficiency was maintained, Kwon said, suggesting the new method can be applied to steel slags and other industrial sites.

Rare earth elements can be selectively recovered from steel slag leachate, Kwon's team said in a research paper published on the website of Advanced Functional Materials, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. "This technology can be adapted to recover other precious metals and commodities." 
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