CREEN: First Technical workshop June 2014
CREEN is the Canadian Rare Earth Elements Network. As it continues to develop and evolve, it is focused on encouraging both Industry and Government to fully and actively participate in the development and promotion of a Canadian-based rare-earth-element (REE) industry, where the whole can be greater than the sum of its local industry parts. A significant factor in our success will be CREEN’s ability to establish a set of common, high priority, technical solutions to shared industry issues.
CREEN’s first Technical Workshop was designed and structured as a set of ‘roll-up one’s sleeves’ interactive discussions and work sessions. The 35 delegates comprised the technical leaders from CREEN-pledged members, as well as key non-CREEN metallurgical and process chemistry experts from academia and the consulting sector (see Appendix 1).
The primary goal of the Workshop was to identify and prioritize the research and development (R&D) agenda for CREEN. The first sessions gave the delegates the opportunity to discuss, in broad terms, the various challenges and opportunities that they saw from their respective vantage points in the industry. Some common themes arose, centred on particular stages of REE processing, as well as overarching issues concerning data, information, policies and human resources.
Topics discussed as the basis for potential technical R&D projects included:
- Fundamentals of mineralogy dependence, following identification of REE-mineral phases;
- Preferential liberation, collectors and the effects of temperature;
- The removal of U & Th at the flotation stage (reactive oily bubble) as a means of removing stigma associated with REE and establishing partnerships / advanced projects;
- Flotation equipment, reagent preparation and fine-particle processing;
- Sulphation – equipment and material construction (kiln, FB, Pug);
- Caustic crack;
- Selective upgrading of concentrates, including the removal of Ce & La, resulting in a concentrate richer in the critical REE;
Separation & refining
- Review of basic mathematics involved, systems survey design plus survey roll-out and synthesis of the results (currently rather “black box”);
- Water balance (recycling of HCl, NaOH etc.);
- Fundamentals of the chemistry of REE chlorides;
- Potential for having three separate plants, one for light REE, another for middle REE and a third for heavy REE;
Reagents / Extractants
- Development of domestic knowledge of individual REE separation using solvent extraction and ionic liquids (most knowledge is in China, or locked up in IP held by Molycorp, Solvay Rhodia etc.);
- Need for cooperation with reagent suppliers;
- Recycling as a means to deal with the high costs and environmental issues associated with reagents.
- Specifications for separated product quality / purity and physical properties;
- Role of mixed products (e.g. oxides);
- Pricing clarity / implications for keg impurity;
- Standard / transparent methods of production;
- Handling guidelines for materials (and related equipment).
- General radiation / U & Th studies, along with the other actinides;
- Guidelines for the management of U, Th, Ra, Ac etc.
The workshop ended with a number of identified targeted projects. CREEN is working on next steps: with the scoped research projects now in hand, CREEN is considering how to advance them possibly through collaborative NSERC sponsor rograms with potentially the engage format as starting opportunities.