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Process engineering for sustainable recovery of valuable metals by ELECTRO-IONometallugy

Project description

Environmentally benign solvents enhance the sustainability of mineral and metal recovery

Mining and metallurgy are integral to delivering raw materials for products ranging from cell phones and laptops to photovoltaics and electric vehicles. The demand for minerals and metals is set to increase significantly over the next decades to support the world’s transition away from fossil fuels. Mining is generally an energy-intensive industry that currently relies primarily on fossil fuels to power it. One way to reduce the climate-changing emissions associated with mining is to reduce its energy requirement. With the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, the ELECTROION project is investigating novel solvents that promise to help us recover valuable minerals and metals in more sustainable ways.


Current process methodologies for mineral and metal processing depend on a significant amount of energy, which is mostly produced by the combustion of fossil fuels. The mass flow and energy efficiencies of these processes are poor, leading to a large volume of solid, liquid and gas waste residues. Although, transition to low-carbon technologies is essential to combat climate change, this will also lead to an increasing demand for strategic minerals/metals. Consequently, if we continue using conventional technologies, high operational cost and rise in CO2 emissions can be expected. In this context, ionometallurgy may provide more efficient and selective processing opportunities, as it makes use of ionic solvents to process metals. ELECTROION will use the so called deep eutectic solvents (DESs), which are mixtures of salts such as choline chloride with hydrogen-bond donors such as urea. These are environmentally benign and the components are already produced in large quantities at low cost. Previous studies have already demonstrated the capability of DES to dissolve metals from a variety of raw materials. Due to their high ionic strength, they also allow the recovery of metals from the solution by electrochemical methods. Hence, the integration of mineral dissolution and metal recovery in ionic solvents can significantly improve space-time yields. Yet, the properties of DESs may be compromised over time, which may inhibit their reuse/recyclability. Also, the effect of oxidising agents on the electrochemical stability of the ionic solvents have not been studied yet. Techno-economic analysis shows that the use of DESs is very reliant on efficient recovery of the liquid. The project will focus on efficient digestion and recovery of all of the economically important streams in the process with the aim of creating a closed loop for the winning and recycling of elements. This new knowledge is vital for the whole closed loop manufacturing chain.


Net EU contribution
€ 212 933,76
LE1 7RH Leicester
United Kingdom

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East Midlands (England) Leicestershire, Rutland and Northamptonshire Leicester
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 212 933,76