American Rare Earths part of group awarded research funding for REE processing
A consortium led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has been awarded research funding to develop scalable, bio-based separation and purification of rare earths elements. American Rare Earths Ltd’s wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary, Western Rare Earths is the sole industry member of a consortium that was awarded an initial US$4 million (A$5.576M) in Phase 1. An additional $9 million (A$12.547 million) may be added in follow-on phases, based on performance. Feedstocks from the La Paz Rare Earth Project and Halleck Creek Rare Earth Project have been provided to researchers.
The funding provides research support for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Environmental Microbes as a BioEngineering Resource (EMBER) program. EMBER has charged LLNL to lead the consortium in developing a biotechnology-based separation and purification strategy for rare earth elements (REEs) from under-utilized domestic sources. The program aims to deliver multiple capabilities such as the separation of REE mixtures into individual elements.
“We are honored to have our U.S. technical and management team collaborate with the leading researchers on cutting-edge technologies,” said Chris Gibbs, MD/CEO of American Rare Earths said in a statement. “Rare Earths separation and purification would benefit from a new tech stack combined with traditional mineral processing approaches. A renewable, reusable, sustainable approach will meet fewer permitting hurdles.”
The consortium is advancing the bio-based process using the REE-selective LanModulin protein, discovered by Prof. Joseph Cotruvo of Penn State University. The sustainable, renewable, reusable capabilities of LanModulin along with its simplicity of making high purity concentrations, could facilitate scaling the technology.
Collaborating institutions include Penn State University, Columbia University, Tufts University, The University of Kentucky and Purdue University. The consortium draws on a wealth of rare earths experience in processing, separation, purification and economic analysis. The EMBER project has provided the funding to activate world-class talent and labs as they seek to scale game changing technology.
DARPA outlined the EMBER program metrics to “enable new biomining methods for separation, purification, and conversion of REEs into manufacturing-ready forms. Microbes (and/or biomolecules) can be biologically engineered or adapted to bind, assimilate, and manipulate individual REEs.” “Resultant bioengineering approaches will be coupled to process engineering workflows to extract and purify REEs from domestic source materials. Demonstration of viable schemes will be supported by compelling techno-economic analyses and culminate in an aggressive, proof-of concept pilot-scale REE biomining operation.”
“Biomining is an alternative approach that utilizes microbes to recover metals (e.g., copper, gold) from source materials, often using redox processes to liberate the target metal from a mineral source.”
American Rare Earth’s projects are host to unique REE bearing mineral deposits that are exceptionally large, accessible at the surface, simple in mineralization, with high value magnet REEs (Nd, Pr, Dy, Tb) exceeding 24 percent of total REE content, and all 14 of the naturally occurring lanthanides present.