Selective Water Leaching of Sulfated Rare Earth Ore and Impurity Removal from a Rare Earth Sulfuric Liquor

  • Ruberlan Gomes SilvaEmail author
  • Carlos Antonio Morais
  • Éder Domingos Oliveira


The objective of this work was to assess the influence of parameters such as residence time, solid content, and temperature in a process route towards purified rare earth liquor which could be adequate to produce marketable rare earth products. The steps of the process route proposed in this study comprised water leaching of a sulfated rare earth ore and removal of impurities through the purification of the rare earth sulfuric liquor, which is the product of the water leaching step. The sample used in the water leaching experiments was a sulfated rare earth ore produced by the reaction of a beneficiated rare earth ore with sulfuric acid followed by roasting at 700 °C for 2 h in a muffle furnace and cooling at 20 °C. The water leaching experiments showed that the best condition comprised a residence time of 30 min, temperature of 20 °C, and solid content of 10% w/w, resulting in a recovery of 71.3% of the rare earth elements (REE) and a lower impurity extraction, e.g., only 15.0% of Fe, representing the main impurity in the rare earth ore. Even when presenting low amounts of impurities, the rare earth sulfuric liquor still needed to be purified before it can be used in the production of marketable rare earth products. In the study, the rare earth sulfuric liquors were purified in two consecutive neutralization steps, first by dosing the limestone pulp to pH up to 3.5 and secondly by adding the lime pulp to raise the pH from 3.5 to 5.0. The application of two consecutive purification steps at 20 °C resulted in the highest overall REE recoveries (65.4%) throughout all the steps of the process, being 71.3% in the water leaching, 99.6% in the partial purification with limestone pulp, and 92.1% in the purification with lime pulp at 20 °C. Under this condition, there was a total elimination of Fe, P, and Th and a significant reduction in the Al, U, and sulfate concentrations in the purified rare earth liquor. The purified rare earth liquor attained through the experiment is expected to be amenable to be used in the production of marketable products due to the lower impurities/REO mass ratios.

Graphical Abstract


Water leaching Rare earth elements Impurity removal Sulfuric liquor 



The authors would like to thank Vale S.A. especially Patrice Mazzoni, Cássia Souza, and Keila Gonçalves for authorizing the publication of this work. The authors are also thankful to technicians at Vale Mineral Development Centre, especially Wagner Soares, Daiane Santos, Márcio Jacob, and Luzia Chaves, who were dutifully engaged in this study. We would also like to thank Daniel Saturnino and Julius Martins for proofreading the paper. Éder Oliveira and Carlos Morais acknowledge the support from CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico), CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior), and FAPEMIG (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa de Minas Gerais.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration Inc. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.VALE Mineral Development CentreSanta LuziaBrazil
  2. 2.Centro de Desenvolvimento da Tecnologia Nuclear (CDTN/CNEN)Belo HorizonteBrazil
  3. 3.Department of Chemical EngineeringUniversidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG)Belo HorizonteBrazil

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