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Mineral nanodroplets: impact study for rare-earth separation

Contact: CARRIERE David, , david.carriere@cea.fr, +33 1 69 08 54 89
We have unveiled an exotic precipitation mechanism involved in some recycling processes of rare-earth elements. The goal of the internship is to evaluate its impact on existing processes, and its potential for new approaches.
Possibility of continuation in PhD: Oui
Deadline for application:30/09/2022

Full description:
Our “green economy” (photovoltaics, lithium batteries) largely relies on the rare-earth (RE) elements; but their extraction raises heavy ecological concerns, and their recycling is scarce. Any progress in the separation and precipitation processes will benefit the global environmental balance.

In this context, we evidenced the spontaneous formation of “mineral nanodroplets” during the co-precipitation of cerium ions by oxalic acid in water, a key step in some recovery process of RE. The mineral nanodroplets consist in a reactant-rich liquid that convert into the cerium oxalate crystals after several tens of seconds. This newly reported nanophase is ignored in the current separation and recovery processes.

The aim of this internship is to evaluate the impact of the mineral nanodroplets on existing processes, and explore its potential for alternative routes: i) assess their sensitivity towards physico-chemical parameters relevant to applications, ii) prove / disprove their existence in a broader variety of rare-earths, and iii) assess their wetting with surfaces of varying hydrophobicity and pore sizes (nm-µm).
Technics/methods used during the internship:
Solution chemistry, cryo-electron transmission microscopy, luminescence spectroscopy, small-angle X-ray scattering in lab and synchrotron

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