Xiaofeng Guo, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Washington, is part of a national team of scientists that recently received $39 million in funding to develop market-ready technologies to increase domestic supply of critical elements needed for the clean energy transition.
The Department of Energy will support 16 projects across 12 states to develop commercially scalable technologies to increase domestic supply of copper, nickel, lithium, cobalt, rare earths and other critical elements.
The goal of Guo’s project, “Carbon Dioxide Capture, Storage, and Essential Element Recovery in Red Clay Mine Waste,” is to use critical carbon dioxide to extract essential elements, especially rare earth elements, from aluminum production waste (red clay).
The project is led by Xin Zhang, a chemical engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington, and Guo’s doctoral advisor and Arizona State University professor Alexandra Nawrotsky, a donor to WSU’s Alexandra Nawrotsky Institute for Experimental Thermodynamics.
“We are excited to work with PNNL and ASU to develop a thermodynamic database of rare earth carbonate species through data mining, spectroscopic and solubility studies under critical CO2 conditions,” Guo said. “The established database will support understanding of the extraction and separation of rare earths from red mud.”
Red mud is a common industrial waste rich in useful elements such as rare earth elements needed to make electric vehicle batteries, solar cells and other clean energy technologies. The critical role of rare earths in clean energy and other high-tech industries has led to an increase in demand that is rapidly outstripping the world’s known supply.
The work of Guo and his colleagues will help to provide essential fundamental knowledge for optimizing the extraction and separation of rare earth elements from red clay. The project will ultimately help reduce the carbon footprint of the economy of the future by displacing today’s highly toxic acid leaching processes.
DOE funding for the project is part of ARPA-E Mining Innovations for the Recovery of Negative Emission Resources (MINER) program aimed at developing market-ready technologies to increase domestic supply of critical elements needed for the clean energy transition.