New technology under development in Saskatoon could make it profitable for Saskatchewan-based mining companies to extract “significant” quantities of rare earth elements from uranium tailings solution that would otherwise go to waste.
The parallel processes being piloted by Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC), which started work on the project three years ago, involve concentrating the tailings solution and then using “cells” containing mixers to separate out each of the rare earth elements.
“It’s good for our uranium companies and it’s good for the province,” said Bryan Shreiner, who heads SRC’s minerals division. “And in terms of value for Canada and the rest of the world, rare earths are in demand.”
Rare earth elements are used to improve alloys and manufacture consumer electronics and other products. While the 17 elements are relatively abundant, they are difficult to produce because they almost never appear in significant concentrations.
SRC’s technology, the product of about three years’ work, could not only ease China’s stranglehold on the global market for rare earths, but make extracting the elements much cheaper than setting up a dedicated facility, Schreiner said.
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