Loading...

Menu


Molecular Recognition Technology

Environmentally Friendly, Cost Efficient Separation of Each Individual Rare Earth Element

Learn More
parallax layer

Molecular Recognition Technology

Benefits of Molecular Recognition Technology

Selectivity

Greater than 99% of the REE’s, as a group, are recovered in a clean separation from other metal components and individual selective separations of the REE’s are then made. Proprietary MRT SuperLig® resins use many fewer stages than traditional SX processes.

Cost Efficient

SuperLig® resins are produced using proprietary manufacturing procedures. Simplified separation process delivers pure individual elements requiring fewer separation stages.

Scalable

IBC has scaled-up MRT systems from laboratory to commercial operations for decades. Only well-established chemical engineering procedures will be utilized during scale-up for REE separation.

Green

MRT procedures use green chemistry. An environmentally friendly process, including recycling of spent nitric acid, ensures that MRT provides superior environmentally sustainable metrics.

Beyond Bokan

Ucore shareholders will participate in unlocking value created by using MRT on other rare earth projects worldwide including traditional mining projects as well as tailings remediation.

parallax layer

Ucore Successfully Separates Entire Rare Earth Suite at High Purity (03/02/2015)

This breakthrough represents advanced American technology being used to address a uniquely American challenge,” said Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “Securing the most critical specialty metals is essential to fuel our nation’s technology engines. Rare earths such as dysprosium, terbium, and neodymium are increasingly important to U.S. military, transportation, medical, and super-computing applications as we compete across the globe. My congratulations to Ucore and Utah-based IBC Advanced Technologies, Inc. for delivering a prospective ‘missing link’ in the domestic technology metals supply stream.”

- Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
President pro tempore of the United States Senate and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee

Frequently Asked Questions

A) - You claim achievement of remarkable separations of REE from concentrated mine leach solutions. How is Molecular Recognition Technology (MRT) different than presently used methods, like solvent extraction (SX) and ion exchange (IX)?

Response

The simple answer is that MRT processes have much greater selectivity for the REE, both as a group and as individual metals. Because of this selectivity, essentially all of the REE can be recovered (high yield) and a clean >99% separation can be made of REE from other metal components of the pregnant leach solution (PLS). Having this pure set of REE means that metal impurities do not have to be removed downstream as individual REE are being separated from each other. This greatly simplifies the process, resulting in low capital expenditure (Capex) and low operational expenditure (Opex). SX, IX, and other proposed separation processes are less selective than MRT and thus cannot make this clean separation. Consequently, many additional separation stages are necessary downstream resulting in added processing time, expense (both Capex and Opex) and environmental damage. Separation of the REE into individual elements is carried out using proprietary MRT materials (SuperLig® resins) that use many fewer stages than are needed with IX and SX processes.

B) - Aren’t MRT systems more expensive than SX and IX because of the complexity of the selective MRT ligands? Wouldn’t this work against using MRT materials for separations of REE?

Response

No. The expense of using MRT systems is lower than that incurred using less selective technologies. This becomes obvious when one considers the big picture. IBC’s manufacturing processes have been developed over many years and the SuperLig® resins are produced at the lowest possible costs using IBC’s proprietary manufacturing procedures. In addition, overall energy and water usage, space requirements, cost of elution and wash chemicals, rapid metal binding and release, speed of extracting and recovering the metal, metal purity, metal losses, metal inventory time, labor costs, and environmental issues all come into the economics equation. In the case of MRT, the high selectivity of the process makes use of the SuperLig® resins not only highly economic, since the entire procedure can be greatly simplified; but desirable because of the tremendous positive effect the minimization of generated waste has on the environment. Economic benefits arise because the separation process can be greatly simplified resulting in high yield production of pure elements requiring many fewer separation stages than are needed in SX, IX or other less selective separation processes. The simplified MRT process requires a much shorter processing time, much less space, fewer chemicals, fewer employees as operated from the mill control room, no solvents, and simpler equipment. On the environmental side, the simplified system easily meets strict environmental regulations because there is minimal waste, solvents are not used, and washing and elution steps are efficient. Furthermore, the dilute nitric acid used for washing and elution processes is recycled.

C) - Your MRT process for separations of REE from Bokan Dotson-Ridge concentrate has been proven at laboratory scale. What makes you think that you can successfully scale this process up to a commercial level?

Response

MRT systems have been successfully scaled-up by IBC from laboratory to commercial scale for over two decades. These systems include separation of individual platinum group metals in ore beneficiation processes; recovery of platinum group metals from spent catalyst and other spent products; control of bismuth levels in copper electrolyte; and many others. Our experience is that once the separation has been established at the laboratory scale, scaling it up to the commercial level requires only application of well- established chemical engineering procedures. IBC personnel are well versed in these procedures and have had extensive experience in scaling-up a large variety of metal separation systems. We anticipate no major problems in our scale-up of the system for separation of REE.

D) - Other companies are developing processes, some based on ion exchange chromatographic or electrophoresis principles, for separations of REE, since it is expected that processes based on SX and IX cannot meet increasingly more stringent environmental regulations in the U.S. and other western nations. In what ways do you expect MRT procedures to be more effective than these processes for separations of REE from concentrated solutions and, subsequently, for separations of these REE into individual metals?

Response

There is an urgent need for clean chemistry processes in the separations of REE. These metals pose unique and difficult challenges for the development of such processes. The chemistry of this group of metals is very similar and the separation of individual metals is complex in several cases making methods of low selectivity ineffective. Developers of procedures to replace SX have used separation techniques, such as various forms of chromatography and electrophoresis, which work well for other chemical separations, particularly of biological molecules. Unfortunately, REE are metals and use of these methods has not been effective in their case. MRT procedures derive from a different origin, stemming from developments made over a period of several decades (see E.) IBC has extensive expertise in the application of molecular recognition principles to metal separations and this approach has been successful here as evidenced by the successful separation of the set of REE from the PLS and the further separation of individual REE, all at the >99% purity level. Competing processes are in early stages of development. None has been successful in separating the set of REE from the concentrate and none has been successful in preparing the complete set of separated individual REE. Going forward, these competing processes face many challenges, stemming from their low selectivity and their design for chemical systems very different from REE, which must be overcome before they can hope to be commercially viable. Presently, none of these systems is close to commercial development, despite some claims to the contrary.

E) - It is unlikely that SX or IX processes for separations of REE would be approved for use in the U.S. or other developed nations, since these methods could not meet current regulatory requirements. You claim that MRT is a disruptive green chemistry technology that can effectively separate and recover REE with generation of minimal waste. What is the background for MRT and its principal proponents which make it unique among competitors?

Response

MRT procedures, which are based on green chemistry principles, are becoming increasingly important for the selective separations of metals. This trend is being driven by the need to meet regulatory requirements as these are mandated globally by a population that is increasing in affluence and is becoming more vocal in demanding a clean environment and reduction of human health risks from metal contamination of air, food and water. IBC provides green chemistry MRT processes on commercial scales for many metal separation needs and is now shown to work for high purity separations of individual REE. Twenty-seven years ago IBC was launched as a company based on the decades-long pioneering research on selective metal separations of Dr. Reed M. Izatt and his colleagues at Brigham Young University. Based on this research in metal separations, Dr. Izatt together with Dr. Jerald S. Bradshaw, a co- founder of IBC, received the prestigious American Chemical Society National Award in Separations Science and Technology in 1996. Dr.’s Izatt and Bradshaw are also recipients of the Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology. Co-founder of the International Symposium on Macrocyclic and Supramolecular Chemistry (ISMSC), Dr. Izatt is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and author or co-author of over 500 peer-reviewed research publications. Since 1991, IBC has sponsored the annual Izatt-Christensen Award in Macrocyclic Chemistry. The Award, given to the top macrocyclic chemist in the world as selected by his/her peers, is presented at the annual meeting of the ISMSC, in honor of Professor’s Izatt, Bradshaw and Christensen, co-founders of IBC. Retired from BYU, Dr. Izatt continues active in research at IBC, having published three peer-reviewed papers on metal separations during the past year and editing two books for Wiley on metal sustainability and supramolecular chemistry, which are scheduled to be published in 2016. Dr. Izatt’s work can be accessed on Google Scholar, where it is seen that his research publications have been cited 25,000 times and his h-index is 71. Dr. Izatt is an inorganic chemist with a Ph.D. degree from Pennsylvania State University. As part of his doctoral research, he published in 1955 one of the first papers on the thermodynamics of rare earth metal ion- ligand interactions. His Ph.D. mentor was Dr. W. Conard Fernelius, a pioneer in coordination chemistry research. Steven R. Izatt, President and CEO of IBC, worked as an undergraduate in Dr. Izatt’s laboratory and received two M.S. degrees in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mr. Izatt has authored or co-authored over 100 publications. He serves on the Board of Directors of the International Precious Metals Institute (IPMI) and received the 2008 IPMI Jun-ichiro Tanaka Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his entrepreneurial contributions to the precious metals industry. In addition to precious metals separations, IBC has developed a number of award winning processes including: (1) a process for the removal of bismuth in mg/L amounts from copper electrolyte, which is used worldwide for preparation of pure copper, an essential ingredient of high-tech products; (2) a process leading to a significant reduction in the stored high-level radioactive waste requiring treatment at the Savannah River Site, in collaboration with several U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratories, DOE contractors and a university, and (3) an analytical technique used worldwide for detection of radionuclides, in collaboration with 3M Company and Argonne National Laboratory.

IBC’s staff of Ph.D. scientists, engineers, and business professionals have a long lasting interest and extensive experience in developing and commercializing MRT. Their efforts have led to the increasing use of MRT worldwide, at premier companies such as Asarco Grupo Mexico (USA), Tanaka Kikinzoku Koygo (Japan), Impala Platinum Ltd. (South Africa) and Sino Platinum (China), confirming the recognition by mining and metal recovery industries of the importance of clean chemistry processes. The extensive experience of personnel at IBC ensures the successful completion of the plant for separations of REE at Ucore.

F) - There is understandable skepticism about claims that a new technology can achieve results that are superior to those of existing technologies. What evidence is there that use of Ucore's green chemistry-MRT process can significantly improve separations of individual REE?

Response

The first point to be clarified is that MRT, while innovative, is not a new technology in the metal separations and recovery fields (see E.) MRT has been marketed successfully for over two decades by IBC and is recognized in industry as a valuable green chemistry selective separation process that minimizes waste generation. The extensive experience and accomplishments of IBC in promoting MRT are well known and include bench, pilot, and full scale applications in the precious metals field (platinum group metals), bismuth control in copper electrolyte, and many other selective metal separations.

G) - Investment advisors have suggested that resource investors look carefully before investing in companies who hide their methods behind such terms as ‘proprietary.’ You use this term in describing your separation methods. Do you have something to hide or are you not sure that the technology will work?

Response

The term, ‘proprietary’ is used by IBC in connection with MRT in a different sense than is indicated in the question. IBC has had wide and successful experience in the use of MRT for chemical separations. ‘Proprietary’, in the case of IBC, refers to a proven technology unique to IBC that is covered by a range of patents, trade secrets, know-how and experience that has produced a successful metal separations company employing a protected technology. That the ‘proprietary’ technology works is beyond question as is evidenced by the commercial operations in place and the successful separations of the individual REE.

H) - You tout MRT as a disruptive technology that is based on different principles than SX, IX, or other separation processes. In layman’s terms, describe the background of MRT, how it works and what makes it so different from other separation processes?

Response

MRT is a disruptive technology that stems from the different approach taken by Dr. Izatt in his extensive selective metal separation studies at Brigham Young University and the incorporation of that approach into the successful metal separations developed by IBC over the past quarter of a century (see E.) MRT separations are based on a different idea than those used in conventional separation processes, i.e., the pre-designed selective recognition of a host ligand species by a guest metal species. Separations become possible when the host ligand is bound chemically to a solid support, such as silica gel particles and this entity is contained in a separation device, such as a column. In operation, a feed solution containing the guest metal ion(s) in a complex matrix, such as REE in a PLS, is fed through a column containing the solid support-bound metal-selective ligand. The target metal(s) is selectively separated from the feed solution leaving the remaining matrix ions in the raffinate, from which they may be recovered, if desired. Following washing of the column to remove traces of PLS, the target metal(s) can be eluted in pure form by a small amount of eluent producing a concentrated eluate solution, from which pure metal salts can be recovered. In the commercial process for separation of the REE, dilute nitric acid will be used as wash and eluent. This acid will be recycled. The MRT process is a simple, rapid green chemistry procedure with minimal waste production which distinguishes it from other separation processes.

I) - Separations of so-called critical REE metals, including Y, Nd, Eu, Tb, and Dy, are of particular interest because of their essentiality in numerous high-tech products. Can these metals be recovered individually without the need to separate all of the individual REE?

Response

Yes. The MRT process can be used to recover these critical metals individually. The remaining >99% pure REE can be stored either separately or in groups against future need.

J) - REE, especially the critical ones, are essential to the commercial and military sectors of the U.S. economy. REE are presently being separated on a commercial scale only in China, leaving the U.S. dependent on that nation for its continuing supply of these metals. Can the MRT process be integrated into the overall REE production flow sheet in such a way that production is not slowed by the time required for the separation procedure?

Response

We expect that the REE separation part of the flow sheet will not delay the production of these metals. IBC personnel have incorporated on-line metal separation procedures into numerous commercial operations world-wide. An important characteristic of MRT is that it is a rapid process that can be installed on-line making continuous production of REE possible.

K) - Jack Lifton cites projections from a U.S .Department of Energy forecast that reserves of dysprosium and neodymium may run out by 2015. These metals are of particular importance among the critical metals in the manufacture of powerful magnets and rechargeable batteries and are used in many clean chemistry operations such as wind turbines and electric powered automobiles. Concern is expressed that production of Dy and Nd may not keep up with demand curtailing green energy developments. Over 95% of the global supply of these metals comes from China. Deposits used by Molycorp and Lynas in the U.S. and Australia contain primarily light rare earth metals. Does Bokan Dotson-Ridge contain important amounts of Dy and Nd and is MRT effective in recovering these metals?

Response

Dy and Nd are relatively abundant in the Bokan Dotson-Ridge deposit. These metals make up 2.8% and 20%, respectively, of the total amount of REE in the pregnant leach solution. These metals are readily obtained in pure form using MRT. Their recovery in high purity by MRT SuperLig® technology will mark the first time they have been obtained commercially by a U.S. company on U.S. soil in over two decades. This achievement is important because it is a step toward having a reliable national source of these metals, which are absolutely critical for domestic, commercial, and military uses in the U.S. Furthermore, they will be produced by a clean chemistry procedure and their production will provide employment for U.S. citizens.

L) - The SuperLig® resin material must have a useful life- time after which it needs to be replaced. Is this a limiting factor in the usefulness of MRT products?

Response

Extensive commercial experience with SuperLig® resins indicates that these materials have excellent life times. In the present case, the absence of corrosive chemicals indicates that resin life time will not be an issue. This expectation is confirmed by the positive experience IBC has had with commercial operations used globally.

M) - You make the MRT process sound like an important advancement in the selective separations of metals. Is the process being used commercially and are there sources that describe the effectiveness of MRT?

Response

Yes. MRT processes are operating around the world at companies such as Asarco Grupo Mexico (USA), Impala Platinum (South Africa), Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo (Japan) and Sino Platinum (China). Many papers authored by IBC scientists and published in peer reviewed journals describe MRT. The latest, just accepted for publication in Green Chemistry, a Royal Society of Chemistry publication, is titled “Industrial applications of Molecular Recognition Technology to separations of platinum group metals and selective removal of metal impurities from process streams” and can be cited as Izatt, R.M., et al., Green Chemistry, 2015, DOI: 10.1039/C4gc02188f This paper is now published on-line as an Advance Article. Journal publication will follow soon. References to these sources, as well as papers presented at trade meetings are listed on the IBC web site: <www.ibcmrt.com>

N) - Process flow rates need to be as rapid as possible to maximize throughput. How does the flow rate for an MRT process compare to that of other separation technologies, such as SX or IX?

Response

Flow rates in MRT columns are rapid compared to those in SX, IX, or other processes, such as ones involving chromatography. Rapid flow rates allow the incorporation of MRT processes on-line into industrial systems. IBC has extensive experience in designing on-line separation systems in commercial processes and anticipates no problem doing the same thing in the separation of REE. The inventory time of valuable metals in the MRT process is minimized. When metals can be separated from each other at high purity and at high yields, the need for further processing is greatly reduced, thus allowing the purified product to be rapidly retrieved from the process without further re-work and sold. This greatly accelerates the metals’ time to market. Minimizing the processing time of valuable metals greatly improves the economics over less selective separation methods which require multiple stages to arrive at a final product.

O) - China has increasing need for clean chemistry separation methods in its mining and metal recovery industries. Have any of these industries shown interest in MRT?

Response

Yes. IBC has worked with several companies doing business in China because of their interest in green chemistry selective separation technologies. As a result, MRT is operating in China. For example, a new refinery in China for the recovery of platinum group metals from spent catalytic and other materials (Sino Platinum) uses the MRT separation process. After evaluation of various separation methods, MRT was selected by this company for its economic and processing advantages and its low environmental burden.

P) - Considering the perceived advantages of MRT in the selective separations of REE, why has MRT not been adopted by the Chinese REE market?

Response

Although active in the Chinese metallurgical market, IBC has not approached the Chinese REE industry, choosing instead to focus on the non-Chinese REE market. This strategic decision was made based on the fact that separation of REE is a mature industry in China. There is a large investment in SX and IX infrastructure. The incentive to make any major changes in processing of REE in China is further reduced by the lack of enforcement of environmental legislation in that nation.

Q) - Some advocates of SX and IX separation technology contend that SX plants can be built for as little as a few tens of millions of dollars and that Capex and Opex would be relatively low. Is this correct and would MRT be able to compete with such systems?

Response

This estimate for constructing and operating SX systems is almost certainly unrealistic. The cost of the recently built SX facility for preparation of rare earth concentrates by Molycorp at Mt. Pass, CA has reached hundreds of millions of dollars and the operation still has serious financial challenges. Similar problems exist for the only other operating rare earth facility outside of China, Lynas’ “LAMP” operation in Malaysia, which processes feed stock rare earth ore from Mt. Weld, Australia. As pointed out in question H above, MRT operations are simple. The Capex of an MRT system would be a fraction of that for a much more complex SX system. Because of the much lower use of process chemicals and elimination of solvents, the Opex for MRT is also much lower than that for an SX system. Finally, the green chemistry MRT operation (see B) meets environmental regulations, whereas SX systems are challenged to do so, further raising Capex and Opex.

R) - What is the single most important achievement that MRT has made that distinguishes it from other competing technologies?

Response

The separation from a PLS of all individual rare earth metals from each other with minimal generated waste using green chemistry procedures. The PLS was derived from the Bokan Dotson-Ridge rare earth deposit. The separation had two parts. First, the set of 16 rare earths (Pm excluded) was separated at the >99% level from the other metal constituents and second, individual rare earths were separated from each other at the >99% level. These separations were accomplished with minimal generation of waste and incorporated efficient washing and elution steps (see H.) The significance of this accomplishment is threefold. First, this is the first report of the selective separation of the set of rare earths from PLS material using green chemistry procedures. One reason for the large number of separation steps in conventional separation procedures is that impurity metals remain in the flow sheet and must be separated downstream. Second, the flow sheet for separation of all sixteen individual rare earth metals with minimal waste generation portends well for the commercial separation of REE from Bokan Dotson-Ridge PLS. Third, the versatility and selectivity of the separation process makes it possible to concentrate on recovery of valuable REE and stockpile of others in pure form for later separations, when needed.

parallax layer

Ucore Successfully Separates Entire Rare Earth Suite at High Purity (03/02/2015)

An outstanding accomplishment. Among other firsts, this is the first time that high purity dysprosium has been generated in the U.S. using American feedstock. What’s more, the accomplishment was made without the use of traditional solvent extraction, a technology long known for the generation of unavoidable environmental pollutants. In my opinion, Ucore now has the opportunity to both extract and purify heavy REE’s completely within the U.S. This is a remarkable win for American technology independence from China.”

- Jack Lifton Principal co-founder of TMR and consultant to Ucore

SEPARATED RARE EARTH CARBONATE SALTS

Elution of the bound REE’s, as groups or individuals, from the SuperLig® columns was accomplished by small amounts of eluent (acid). This technique produces concentrated solutions of the pure metal(s) for easy and economical salt production that is compatible with the Ucore flow sheet. Lower production costs are obtained by making rare earth carbonates ("REC’s"), which require minimal reagents and no heating. If desired, REC’s can easily be converted to rare earth oxides ("REO’s") by heating.
parallax layer

Dr. Jean-Marie Lehn

Coming Soon:

Ucore President Jim McKenzie Interviews Molecular Recognition Pioneer and Co-recipient of the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Dr. Jean-Marie Lehn.