Canadian-German-research collaboration in the field of sustainable recovery of critical metals


Canadian-German research collaboration in the field of sustainable recovery of critical metalsIn December 2014, the heads of the leading departments of hydrometallurgical extraction from the universities of British Columbia (Rep.: Prof. D. Dreisinger), Toronto (Rep.: Prof. V.G. Papangelakis) and McGill (Rep.: Prof. G. Demopoulos), and the German University RWTH Aachen (Rep.: Prof. B. Friedrich) met for a round table discussion on sustainable recovery of critical metals from mining and metallurgical wastes by green processing. Canadian mining companies were represented by Glencore, Barrick Gold Corp. and Yukon Inc., which demonstrated interest in environmentally benign extraction of metals. The German/Swedish MEAB Chemie Technik and the consulting company MIMITech also participated in the workshop as experts in the field of process engineering.

In order to overcome certain disadvantages of the current extractive technologies and reduce their environmental footprint, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany supported the creation of a university-industry consortium – to be led by the Institute of Process Metallurgy and Metal Recycling (IME) at RWTH Aachen – to organize a meeting with a respective consortium of Canadian universities and industry and explore collaborative opportunities. During the meeting, a common understanding for the need to develop environmentally friendly metal extraction and separation techniques to recover critical metals from mining and metallurgical wastes was fostered. The university delegations agreed to engage in a collaborative effort in the area of environmentally friendly metal extraction with an initial focus on critical metals. Three R&D sub-themes were identified. The first focuses on studying environmentally benign extraction chemicals that can achieve high recovery rates such as biodegradable organo-compounds or bio-catalysts. The second focuses on enhancing recovery rates by using potentially transformative technologies such as plasma activated water, ultra-sound excitation, or microwave-assisted leaching. The third focuses on the purification and recycling of the leach solution by developing tailored separating agents for the extraction of valuable metals. Deleterious elements will be precipitated in stable crystal structures and encapsulated in inert shell materials. Water will be recovered from the spent liquors and effluents by innovative technologies such as forward osmosis and eutectic freeze crystallization, while water losses to the solid residues will be minimized by the addition of biopolymer surfactants.

The Canadian-German collaboration is supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany as well as the Canadian Embassy in Germany, which in turn has the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Canada. The expectation is that the Canadian government will respond to the German initiative by taking a reciprocal initiative towards enhancing Canadian-German collaboration in the extractive industry.