VTT and the Ural Federal University will start a joint research project for
boosting the recovery of rare earth elements. The exceptional magnetic and
optical properties of earth metals are utilised among others in electronics
and new energy and environmental technologies.
Rare earth elements are present in small quantities in many minerals, and are
generally recovered during mining operations. Such elements are rare in the
EU area, where they are categorised as critical raw materials. The main areas
for production are China and the USA, while other potential areas under
investigation include Greenland, Africa and Australia.
sediments and the industrial side streams generated by mining operations are
currently of secondary consideration in terms of recovery. Their significance
will nevertheless grow once we are able to recover the metals efficiently.
This will also serve to reduce the harmful environmental impact of waste
mountains,” says Research Professor Pertti Koukkari from VTT.
minerals in Finland found to contain rare elements are phosphate and
carbonatite. Recovery has been investigated on several occasions in connection
with the production of phosphate fertilisers. The bulk of rare metals entering
the fertiliser process emerge as a constituent of phosphogypsum, a by-product
generally stored at the municipal tip for the plant in question.
million tonnes of phosphogypsum produced annually
least 53 countries are known to retain gypsum mountains, while phosphogypsum
is generated at the rate of 150-200 million tonnes per year.
concentration of rare metals in phosphogypsum may be of the order of a few
thousandths, placing it on a par with the concentration of gold in gold ore.
Rare metal prices fluctuate dramatically, so that depending on the market
situation some earth metals may acquire a value greater even than gold. Thus
use of a low-cost separation method in the processing of waste gypsum may well
be profitable in certain cases.
Phosphogypsum in Finland
amounts to around 55 million tonnes, to which a further 1.5 million tonnes is
added each year. Neodymium, erbium and europium are among the elements found
in the Siilinjärvi deposit. These are used in powerful magnets, and as a blend
component in optical fibres and optical amplifiers.
and Russia begin research cooperation
investigating the recovery of rare metals in Russia is the Ural Federal
University in Ekaterinburg. The university possesses pilot-scale equipment
designed to develop the recovery of rare metal compounds contained in
VTT has conducted research in recent years
into recovery of rare elements from the phosphate process, and from
phosphogypsum, in the Green Mining programme funded by Tekes – the Finnish
Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation.
cooperation between Finland and Russia will begin with funding from the
Russian Federation's Ministry of Education and Science, and is due to run from
2014 to 2016.