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Separation of rare earths by split-anion extraction

Larsson and K. Binnemans
Hydrometallurgy 156, 206–214 (2015).
DOI: 10.1016/j.hydromet.2015.04.020

Split-anion extraction is a new approach to the separation of mixtures of rare earths by solvent extraction. The rare-earth ions are extracted from a concentrated chloride aqueous phase to an organic phase, consisting of a water-immiscible thiocyanate or nitrate ionic liquid. This allows for efficient extraction of trivalent rare-earth ions from a chloride aqueous phase, without the need of using acidic extractants. The process is called split-anion extraction because the aqueous and organic phases contain different anions. Thiocyanate and nitrate anions have a strong affinity for the organic phase, while chloride anions have a strong affinity for the aqueous phase. In split-anion extraction, the source of complexing anions is the organic phase which allows for the use of chloride aqueous feed solutions and easy stripping of the rare-earth ions from the loaded ionic liquid phase by water (instead of strong inorganic acids). The principle of the new extraction approach is described in detail for the extraction of rare earths from aqueous chloride solutions by the ionic liquids tricaprylmethylammonium thiocyanate and trihexyl(tetradecyl)phosphonium thiocyanate. Rare-earth and chloride concentrations can be varied to optimize the separation process. Separation factors between the end members of the lanthanide series (La–Lu) exceed the value of 200,000.

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