“SPE is likely best thought of as a highly advanced ion exchange technique. However, where conventional ion exchange has the advantage of being highly selective, and able to pull only a desired metal out of solution, SPE adds the advantages of being fast and long-lived to the equation, with significant potential impact on both capex and opex. The work presented by SPE inventor Dr. Richard Hammen at the COM 2012 conference in Niagara Falls, ON, is impressive and has implications well beyond the rare earth industry. ... It may also carry with it the promise of a four-or five-fold reduction in the operational costs required to separate the rare earths, compared to conventional SX. Both of these developments would be very welcome, along with the possibility that SPE is much faster than conventional SX and would thus also reduce the necessary level of working capital... But more broadly...development of SPE has major implications for many other metals and their associated industries. We know that many hydrometallurgical processes contain small but potentially significant levels of some metals in solution. However, economic analysis often indicates that it is simply not feasible to construct a circuit to extract those metals using conventional technology.
"The secret sauce for the remarkably low capex is “Spiderweb™,” solid phase extraction (SPE) technology that Iʼve described in previous ESI articles. ... Dr. Richard Hammen, [is] a brilliant chemist who used to run the chemistry section at NASAʼs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Yes, this is rocket science. One feature of Dr. Hammenʼs astonishing chemical-engineering technology is that it works with plastic piping, versus equipment fabricated out of superexpensive titanium, stainless steel and advanced glass. Another key element is that SPE-spider web tech speeds up chemical reaction kinetics by orders of magnitude… The analogy would be to pay for a Chevrolet, but drive off the lot in a new Cadillac, with every option and all the bells and whistles.”
“There's a private company in the United States...that has really made some major improvements in solid-phase extraction. I expect solid-phase extraction of HREEs will be underway at full scale in the United States no later than 16 months from now. I am not at liberty to say where, but I think you can figure it out just from what I've said today.”
“How about funding and coming up with utterly LEAPFROG TECHNOLOGY in terms of separating the RE elements from the soup! Yes, that’s the hard part of this business.Yet that’s the serious money-maker. And wow! It’s rocket science. Really. They even have a rocket scientist who figured it out.
The end result is a nano-technology precipitation system that speeds up reaction kinetics by a factor of 100 to 1,000, or maybe more because it all happens so darned fast that it’s within the blink of an eye. Speeds up reaction kinetics? What does that mean? Well, the conventional way of separating elements from the above-described acid soup is using things called “resins.” This term covers a series of complex substances, and I won’t take the time to detail them here. Suffice to say that with resins, your separation times are measured in terms of days and weeks, even months. But with Spiderweb™ nano-tech, the element separation occurs in a matter of seconds or less. Super-fast. That’s the speeded-up reaction kinetics.
The Hammen Spiderweb™ technology uses this kind of ligand and chelation science. The polymer-bound white sand acts as a filter. You pass the acid soup, with the RE elements, through the Spiderweb™. There’s a fast -- very fast -- takedown of the elements that you want. Then you reverse the flow to recover the exact material that you just filtered. It’s kind of like your liver filtering out the chelating agents with the heavy metal attached. Afterwards, you can precipitate out the RE elements. What do you want? An oxide? A dioxide? A salt? That all depends on the downstream use for the material. More of that rocket science.
Dr. Hammen has taken two decades’ worth of modern research in organic chemistry and biochemistry -- and many techniques used in the pharmaceuticals industry -- and applied this level of science to the mining biz. I don’t believe that the resin-makers of the world (Dow Chemical, among them) know what’s about to hit them. It’s sort of like how Kodak invented digital photography, but didn’t market the concept because they were making too much money off old-fashioned film. Kodak is now in bankruptcy, selling off parts to pay creditors. Dow Chemical has a lot more up its sleeve than resin sales, but you get the point.... It goes beyond RE as well. There are surely apps here for uranium, copper, gold, silver and much more. Stand by. We’re just on the ground floor for this. Spiderweb™ is leapfrog tech. It’s revolutionary."