Considering the structural and compositional diversity of the various rare earth minerals and the complexity of natural (e.g. weathering) and engineered rare earth elements fractionation/enrichment processes (e.g. leaching), mineralogy is a key component at all steps ranging from exploration to production. In this context, taking advantage of CANMETMining (CanMIN) expertise, the objective of this project is to address key opportunities for innovation in mineralogical characterization that could lead to a competitive advantage in the support of the REE work underway in Canada. In addition, the research activities will strengthen CanMIN collaboration with Canadian universities and research institutes. Three main avenues of investigation are considered:
- A) Improvements in the compositional and structural characterization of complex REE accessory minerals down to the nanometric scale: This will include theoretical and experimental developments in the spectral analysis of low-energy REE X-ray lines during electron probe X-ray microanalysis as well as the integration of micro X-ray diffraction techniques.
- B) Characterization of reactive processes associated with leaching: The intent is to build on CanMIN expertise in surface analysis to support the REE hydrometallurgy research activities, by providing key compositional and speciation information that will lead to a better understanding of the reactive processes at play during various REE leaching experiments.
- C) Development of an innovative approach to adequately characterize the distribution and structural environment of REE in ion-adsorbed and other low-grade mineralization: Efforts will concentrate in establishing an efficient image analysis approach to practically determine the distribution of trace levels of REE at optimal spatial resolution and in investigating the potential of synchrotron-based X-ray absorption techniques to better understand the local structure of the REE in these unique natural occurrences.