Researchers at Murdoch University are taking a different route to make the recovery of high value precious metals faster and more economically viable.
The new microfluidics approach is said to speed up processing and allow companies to considerably reduce plant space compared to traditional methods.
Dr Chun-Yang Yin and Dr Aleksandar Nikoloski said the rising cost of metals such as platinum and palladium meant recovery is both economically and environmentally essential.
The research, which appeared in the Minerals Engineering journal, trialled extracting platinum and palladium from a spent automotive catalyst leach solution
It has shown major advantages over conventional methods.
“Traditional mineral extraction uses a time-consuming two-stage process which sees a mineral leach solution and an extractant vigorously mixed before being transferred to a settler,” Yin said.
“The new microfluidics approach is a single-stage process which sees the leach solution and extractant pumped along two very fine micro-channels embedded in a PyreXTM microchip. This nano-level interplay results in increased surface-to-volume ratio and improved metal ion transfer, with 99 per cent of extraction occurring within a single second.”
He added this could change the purification technology for platinum group metals as well as the niche minerals industry.
Yin said the findings represented proof-of-concept and his group now wants to partner with industry to scale up. He also added the new technique could be used for purification of rare earth elements which are vital commodities for green technologies such as hybrid cars and novel batteries.
“Up until now microfluidics has been used primarily in the medical and pharmaceutical industries and has never been applied to industrial mineral processing,” he said.
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