environmentally friendly and efficient methods for extraction
of rare earth elements (REE) from secondary sources


Despite recent numerous exploratory and research efforts in the EU aiming at strengthening REE supply chains using European sources of rare earth elements (e.g. FP7 EURARE project), important REE-containing materials have been still not properly addressed. Since many of promising materials are chemically very different, a general method of REE recovery can’t be found. The ENVIREE project is aimed at completing the picture of effective REE supply within Europe by addressing exploitation of specific secondary sources. 

Among the secondary materials to be studied by ENVIREE are those from mining activities that have been used for their original mineral content but are now considered as waste. This kind of waste is by far the most abundant weight-wise in Europe. Essentially there are some options for these materials. They can be simply left where they are hoping that there will be no leaching of any possible contaminants, or they can be used with improved methods to recover other elements than those originally sought. In the ENVIREE project we aim at complete extraction process proposal for these secondary sources of REE. We will investigate innovative leaching followed by selective and effective separation of the metals. The selected processes will be developed to pilot scale processing using e.g. the existing hydrochemical test bed at Chalmers. In order to have a complete holistic view of the process we will also include a life cycle assessment (LCA), strategic environmental impact assessment (SEA), energy efficiency and economic feasibility for the processes developed as well as finding optimal remediation procedure. We will bring the project results to the end user represented by different industries from different parts of Europe and also third countries via dissemination, networking and market uptake efforts.

As reflected by strong presence of industrial partners and supporters of the ENVIREE consortium the field of hydrometallurgical treatment of mineral resources is industrially very important, but of equal importance is to see the connections between the different parts of the complete extraction systém including all the steps outlined above. To make this know-how available for the next generation of scientists the ENVIREE project will also have an extensive education and training work package ensuring that not only the knowledge of today is taught but also that the knowledge generated within our project is disseminated through the right channels in order to create the added value that only a proper transfer of knowledge can do.

ENVIREE objectives are as follows: 

  • to develop novel and environmentally friendly leaching processes for different waste materials. This will comprise e.g. by-products and low grade materials as presented in the Table 1 (to be extended during the project)
  • to develop environmentally friendly and economical separation processes for the different materials depending on which metals are to be recovered
  • to ensure that the above processes comply with normal process optimization, e.g. grain size, solid to liquid ratio etc. and all possible chemicals like extraction and leaching agents will be recirculated
  • to asure environmental and economic feasibility of the processes including their energy efficiency, mine closure and rehabilitation when relevant.
  • to have an extensive education, training and dissemination activity ensuring the added value of the selected approach
  • to bring the research results to the market through interaction with the target groups. As an additional benefit of the ENVIREE project, valuable information will be acquired not only for exploitation of the secondary materials, but also those usable within mine closure and rehabilitation of waste sites. 

The work is organized in 6 Work Packages as displayed on the picture below:

ENVIREE consortium includes the following partners:

  • CHALMERS Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden)
  • AGH Akademia Górniczo-Hutnicza im. Stanislawa Staszica v Krakowie (Poland)
  • AICU The Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iași (Romania)
  • IST-ID Instituto Superior Técnico for Research and Development (Portugal)
  • KIT Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (Germany)
  • PIPAS Primus.inter.pares AS (Norway)
  • EDM Empressa de Desenvolvimento Mineiro (Portugal)
  • CEA le Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (France)
  • CGS Council for Geoscience (South Africa)
  • SAVONA Savona Project s.a. (Poland)
  • BRGM Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minieres (France)