New Process Makes Titanium Mining Greener


". . .if taken to industrial scale, the new process could eventually shift the balance of power in global supply."

In what could radically alter the global rare earth industry, scientists at the University of Leeds in the UK have discovered a way to extract significant quantities of rare-earth oxides (REO), present in titanium dioxide minerals.

REOs, which are indispensable for the manufacture of wind turbines, energy-efficient lighting, and hybrid and electric cars, are reclaimed simply and inexpensively from the waste materials of another industrial process.

The discovery by researchers from Leeds' Faculty of Engineering, if taken to industrial scale, the new process could eventually shift the balance of power in global supply, breaking China's near monopoly on these scarce but crucial resources. China currently holds 95% of the world's reserves of rare earth metals in a multibillion dollar global market in which demand is growing steadily.

"These materials are also widely used in the engines of cars and electronics, defence and nuclear industries. In fact they cut across so many leading edge technologies, the additional demand for device related applications is set to outstrip supply," said Professor Animesh Jha, who led the research at Leeds.

"There is a serious risk that technologies that can make a major environmental impact could be held back through lack of the necessary raw materialsóbut hopefully our new process, which is itself much 'greener' than current techniques, could make this less likely."

The Leeds breakthrough came as Professor Jha and his team were fine-tuning a patented industrial process they have developed to extract higher yields of titanium dioxide and refine it to over 99% purity. Not only does the technology eliminate hazardous wastes, cut costs and carbon dioxide emissions, the team also discovered they can extract significant quantities of rare earth metal oxides as co-products of the refining process.

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