Geomega Ressources

ISR TECHNOLOGY

“Electric vehicles need magnet-based motors. Permanent magnets need rare earth oxides. To make rare earth oxides you need raw materials. While we own a world class deposit in Montviel, current market conditions make it difficult to develop new rare earth mines. Innord’s ISR technology can process various feeds which gives us a major advantage to be able to start producing rare earth oxides from such an important industrial source. We believe that rare earth magnets are the future of the rare earth industry and developing the recycling of permanent magnets and permanent magnet residues is just as important as developing new mines.”
Kiril Mugerman (2018)

Problem

  • Large volumes of waste from magnet manufacturers are poorly disposed of while it represents an important source of key Rare Earth Elements (REE – Nd/Pr/Dy/Tb)
  • Current REE separation technology (Solvent Extraction – SX), is a process with a well-known adverse environmental impact which has been developed over the years in China and is now kept in secret.
  • Secure supply of REE outside of China is required to support Clean Technologies (Energy, Energy storage and Sustainable mobility)

Our Technology (ISR)

  • Use magnet residue and recycled magnets as main source of feed with key REE (Nd/Dy)
  • Magnet residue from magnet manufacturers ideal feed (scraps & swarf)
  • End-of-life-permanent magnet recycling is growing every year
  • ISR uses organic-solvent-free and feasible technology to isolate and purify REE
  • Feed from magnet manufacturers, alloy makers and recyclers across Europe and US to be processed in Canada

Magnetic separation of REE compounds

GéoMégA initiated its research and development (“R&D”) in rare earth separation in November 2011. The first initiative was undertaken together with École Polytechnique de Montréal (Department of Engineering Physics). Initially, the project was to develop a system and method for magnetic separation of REE. The difference between the magnetic susceptibility of REE was the key parameter. After 12 months of design and laboratory scale prototype development, the prototype successfully demonstrated the feasibility of magnetic separation between monophasic REE particles exploiting the magnetic susceptibility difference.With this approach, REE are precipitated selectively in the form of carbonates during an incremental pH augmentation in a micro fluidic system to prevent double crystal formation.

The precipitate (1 um particle) undergoes a sedimentation process in a magnetic liquid which leverages the susceptibility contrast and tunes the buoyancy force, acting on the solid particles. An electromagnetic assembly generates strong magnetic energy gradient over the suspension to attract the paramagnetic particles and repel the diamagnetic ones. This principle is applicable in a particle settling process or selective particle trapping within the flow.

Although the method has produced positive results, the Company identified potential difficulties during scale up, most importantly that the method will be difficult to apply properly at the production level where the mixed REE concentrate is not made up of monophasic particles. Instead, each particle, however fine, is always a mix of multiple REE.

The cooperation project with École Polytechnique was officially terminated in September 2013.

Magnetic separation test at École Polytechnique de Montréal.

Free flow electrophoresis separation fo REE ions

In February 2013, with the knowledge gained from developing the magnetic separation process, the Company began investigating the behavior of REE ions in solution and free flow electrophoresis (FFE) fundamentals. Electrophoretic separation of charged particles and ions has been conventionally performed in biotechnology to sequence proteins and cells. Based on FFE principals, charged particles and ions migrate in the separation channel perpendicular to the flow, under the effect of the electric field. The speed of migration depends on the electrophoretic mobility of the particles and ions which varies based on charge, size and other parameters.

This research led to the formation of the current project for the development of a system and method for separation and purification of dissolved rare earth elements/compounds by exploiting the differences in electrophoretic mobility of REE. As a result, the Company filed for a patent request on the proposed process which can be viewed here.
Since December 2013, the Company has been conducting all its research activity at the National Research Council of Canada (“NRC”) installations in Boucherville in Québec where the Company laboratory is equipped with an ICP-EOS machine to accelerate its assays during the process testing and validation.

In January, February and May of 2014, the Company publicly disclosed the results of three (3) series of tests demonstrating the successful separation of REE. The solutions were prepared in the project headquarters by GéoMégA before being shipped to Germany for separation using a standard free-flow electrophoresis machine.
The January 2014 series of tests (link to the Jan 15 press release) demonstrated the Company’s breakthrough in REE separation with the perfect separation in a single pass of three (3) REE, namely: lanthanum, europium and ytterbium.

Demonstration series results from January 15, 2014
REE separation REE Separation REE Separation
The January 2014 series of tests led to successful conclusion of tests confirming physical separation of rare earth elements (“REE”).
Demonstration series results from February 24, 2014
The February 2014 series of tests demonstrated the robustness of the process with the separation of neighbour REE, namely: dysprosium/terbium, neodymium/praseodymium and praseodymium/cerium.
Demonstration series results from February 24, 2014
The February 2014 series of tests demonstrated the robustness of the process with the separation of neighbour REE, namely: dysprosium/terbium, neodymium/praseodymium and praseodymium/cerium.

The intriguing features of FFE separation of REE that the Company is investigating include:

  • Potential to attain 100% purity and complete recovery
  • Lower chemical and energy consuming technique compared to conventional methods
  • Potential for significant savings on both capital and operating costs
  • Robust and versatile technology for mineral refinery
  • No adjustment required based on REE distribution of concentrate

The ultimate target for the Company is to develop a high throughput (metric tons/day) REE separation process. Currently, the Company is developing a scale up of the process successfully validated in 2014 by increasing the scale from grams per day to kilograms per day. Major effort is being devoted to adapt the existing FFE technique to realize the ultimate separation criteria.
If successful, the emerging technology will revolutionize the forthcoming REE market and will shift the current horizon of REE availability in the future in favor of diversified, mass applications.

The full patent application can be viewed here.