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JOM, Vol. 68, No.

11, 2016
DOI: 10.1007/s11837-016-2111-y
Ó 2016 The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society

Comparative Analysis of Processes for Recovery of Rare Earths

from Bauxite Residue



1.—Department of Chemical Engineering, KU Leuven, 3001 Leuven, Belgium. 2.—Department of

Materials Engineering, KU Leuven, 3001 Leuven, Belgium. 3.—Department of Chemistry, KU
Leuven, 3001 Leuven, Belgium. 4.—e-mail:

Environmental concerns and lack of space suggest that the management of

bauxite residue needs to be re-adressed. The utilization of the residue has thus
become a topic high on the agenda for both academia and industry, yet, up to
date, it is only rarely used. Nonetheless, recovery of rare earth elements
(REEs) with or without other metals from bauxite residue, and utilization of
the left-over residue in other applications like building materials may be a
viable alternative to storage. Hence, different processes developed by the
authors for recovery of REEs and other metals from bauxite residue were
compared. In this study, preliminary energy and cost analyses were carried
out to assess the feasibility of the processes. These analyses show that the
combination of alkali roasting-smelting-quenching-leaching is a promising
process for the treatment of bauxite residue and that it is justified to study this
process at a pilot scale.

developed by the authors for recovering REEs

with/without other metals from Greek bauxite
Bauxite residue (red mud) is a waste generated residue: (1) direct leaching (L); (2) smelting-leaching
during the Bayer process of alumina production (S-L); (3) alkali roasting-smelting-quenching-leach-
from bauxite. About 140 million tonnes of bauxite ing (AR-S-Q-L); and (4) sulfation-roasting-leaching
residue are generated annually and almost 3 billion (Su-R-L).5–8 Quantitative flow sheets of these pro-
tonnes are already stockpiled.1 Long-term storage of cesses are shown in Figs. 1, 2, 3, and 4. The values
such volumes of waste not only occupies valuable given in these figures are fully based on experimen-
land but is also harmful for the environment, which tal values and results.
in turn incurs major liabilities and costs to the
alumina industries. Utilization of the residue in
other applications could be a sustainable alterna-
tive. Currently, only 2–3% of this material is FactSage 6.4 was used for calculating the energy
currently used in cement and ceramic applica- consumption of the different processes.9 Phase
tions,1,2 but new integrated processes seem equilibria were calculated at 25°C and at the
promising.3 process temperature. The difference between the
Major elements that are present in the bauxite enthalpies is the minimum energy required for the
residue are iron, aluminium, silicon, titanium and process. It was assumed that around 20% of the
calcium. It also contains some valuable but minor consumed energy is used for purposes other than
elements such as rare-earth elements (REEs). The supplying energy to the reactions, raw materials
REEs present in the bauxite ore report to bauxite and products (cooling the furnace shell, heat losses
residue during the Bayer process.4 Recovery of through the furnace wall, radiation, etc.).10–15
REEs and other metals and the utilization of the Although the energy losses will be less for processes
leftover residue in building applications can con- performed at lower temperature, this was not taken
tribute to solving the bauxite residue problem and into account in this study. The 20% loss does not
create value. Different processes have been include the loss of chemical energy in the form of CO

2958 (Published online September 27, 2016)

Comparative Analysis of Processes for Recovery of Rare Earths from Bauxite Residue 2959

Figure 5 shows the energy consumption of the

different processes with different options. In addi-
tion, the energy consumption during iron ore smelt-
ing was also calculated for comparison. The
comparison is based on the processing of an equal
amount of iron oxide in bauxite residue and iron ore.
The results showed that almost twice as much
energy is required for direct smelting of bauxite
residue than for iron ore smelting (1.7 GJ). This is
due to the large amount of slag generated, which
needs to be processed. The energy required for the
smelting of low-alumina bauxite residue (7 wt.%
Al2O3) is lower than the direct smelting of high-
alumina bauxite residue. However, it is still higher
Fig. 1. Quantitative flow sheet of the direct leaching (L) process.
than what is required for iron ore smelting due to
the still large amount of slag generated in the
process when compared to iron ore. Furthermore,
the energy required for alumina removal also needs
to be considered to allow for a more fair comparison.
Na2CO3 roasting followed by smelting requires
more energy than direct smelting of bauxite residue.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the alumina
can be recovered as a valuable product in this
Na2CO3 roasting-smelting process. The roasting
temperature can be decreased by replacing Na2CO3
by NaOH. The energy consumption of roasting with
NaOH at 500°C followed by smelting is comparable
to that of the direct bauxite residue smelting process
and can be further decreased by lowering the
roasting temperature to 300°C without much
adverse effects on recovery rates. It should be noted
that the consumption of Na2CO3 and NaOH is very
low as these chemicals can be recycled and reused in
the process.
The energy consumption for smelting is very high.
Fig. 2. Quantitative flow sheet of the smelting-leaching (S-L) pro- For example, the smelting of alkali roasted bauxite
cess. residue at 1500°C requires about 2300 kWh/t of iron
produced, in the form of electricity. The electric arc
furnace (EAF) is used for melting of DRI (direct
in the out gases.14 We assume that the CO content reduced iron) and scrap, and generally not for pig
in the out gases will be low as most of the CO can iron production from ore, due to the high cost of
react with the higher oxides when it is going electrical energy. The energy required for DRI
through the burden before leaving the furnace. This melting is less than 500 kWh/t of iron,10 whereas
formation of CO results in increased carbon or fuel iron ore smelting requires >1000 kWh/t of iron.
consumption that may slightly increase the raw Therefore, it is advisable to pre-reduce the bauxite
material cost, which can decrease the margin in cost residue before melting in the EAF. Other alterna-
analysis. However, it should be noted that the tive new iron-making processes such as Finex,
sensible heat in the out gases was considered in the ITMk3 and Hisarna can also be studied for bauxite
calculations. The energy consumption in leaching residue smelting.16
was not included as most of the leaching operations The energy consumption during bauxite residue
were performed at room temperature and consume smelting according to the process developed by
less energy when compared to high-temperature Logomerac is around 3600 kWh for producing 1 t
processes. of pig iron and 3 t of slag.17 The calculated energy
Three processes were selected for energy analysis: for direct smelting of bauxite residue is about 3200
(1) S-L, (2) AR-S-L, and (3) Su-R-L. Direct leaching kWh/t of pig iron and 2.4 t of slag. Hence, the
(L) was not studied further as this process does not calculations presented here are in line with the
require high temperatures and was carried out at experimental results reported in the literature.
room temperature. AR-S-Q-L is not shown as the The energy consumption for sulfation roasting is
quenching step requires a negligible amount of very high (6 GJ/t). It is even higher than the
energy, hence yielding the same energy consump- energy required for direct smelting of the bauxite
tion as AR-S-L. residue. This is due to the large amount of raw
2960 Borra, Blanpain, Pontikes, Binnemans, and Van Gerven

Fig. 3. Quantitative flow sheet of the alkali roasting-smelting-leaching (AR-S-L) and alkali roasting-smelting-quenching-leaching (AR-S-Q-L)

materials (1 t bauxite residue, 1 t of sulfuric acid

and 0.4 t of water), decomposition of sulfates during
roasting and evaporation of water during sulfation.
Although the energy consumption is high, the
operating temperature is low, which can decrease
the capital cost required in the process. Low-cost
gaseous and liquid fuels can be used in the process,
whereas coke or high-quality coal are required in
smelting. The acid consumption in this process is
the lowest of the different processes that have been
compared. A low acid consumption decreases the
cost. Finally, the level of impurities in the leach
solution is low in this process. Hence, the volume of
generated effluent will also be small.

Indicative cost aspects of the AR-S-Q-L process
are shown in Table I, including the estimated costs
of consumed reagents, energy and values of the
generated products. Similar cost analyses for the Fig. 4. Quantitative flow sheet of the sulfation-roasting-leaching (Su-
other processes (L, S-L, AR-S-L and Su-R-L) were R-L) process.
also performed. The consumption of bauxite residue
is represented as a benefit, and therefore as a
positive value, as the material is a liability to the taken from Alibaba.19 The price of acids and other
company.1 REE prices (as on 23 February 2016) chemicals (as on 23 February 2016) used in the
were taken from the mineral prices website.18 calculation was taken from Alibaba.19 Titanium
Prices that are not available on this website are dioxide and alumina prices were taken from USGS
Comparative Analysis of Processes for Recovery of Rare Earths from Bauxite Residue 2961

Minerals.20,21 The total REEs value except scan- Information Administration.22,23 As mentioned ear-
dium is the sum of the amounts recovered multi- lier, the residue generated in the process can be
plied by their respective price. For the Sc2O3 considered for application in building materials.
price,two values were considered: (1) the market However, it should be noted that the costs of
price (as on 23 February 2016), and (2) half of the smelting, alkali roasting, sulfation, roasting, fur-
market price. This was done to evaluate the ther recovery processes (e.g., solvent extraction, ion
decrease in margin if there is a price drop for exchange), labor and equipment were not consid-
Sc2O3 due to the increase in production from the ered in these preliminary calculations.
proposed plants. Hence, two margins were calcu- Different scenarios were also considered for cost
lated. Electrical energy was considered for smelting analysis: (1) recovery of only base metals (BM), (2)
and natural gas was considered for roasting pro- recovery of only scandium, (3) recovery of scandium
cesses. Natural gas and electricity prices (as on 10 and other rare earths (REEs), and (4) recovery of
May 2016) were taken from the US Energy scandium, other rare earths and base metals
(REEs + BM). These scenarios are shown in Fig. 6.
Scenario 4 is not simply the sum of scenarios 1 and 3
as the titanium can also be recovered from the leach
solutions together with REEs. It is evident from this
figure that the recovery of scandium is very impor-
tant. It can also be seen that only the recovery of
base metals from bauxite residue is not a good
option. However, the combined recovery of base
metals and scandium increases the margin. Recov-
ery of REEs other than scandium does not have
much impact on the margins.
Cost analysis of direct leaching shows a very low
margin. Furthermore, large volumes of effluents are
generated in this process. The margin can be
improved by iron recovery via smelting followed by
slag leaching. However, large volumes of effluents
would be still generated in such an improved
process. Therefore, alumina recovery prior to smelt-
ing can further increase the margin. Finally, the
process can be further improved by quenching
before slag leaching as it helps in dissolving tita-
Fig. 5. Energy consumption of different processes. nium and REEs.

Table I. Preliminary cost analysis of the alkali roasting-smelting-quenching-leaching process (calculation

base is 1 tonne of bauxite residue)

Mass (t) Unit price (US$/t) Value (US$)

Acid 0.46 200 92
Water 20 1 20
Na2CO3 0.05 150 8
Coke 0.1 150 15
Electrical energy 655 (kWh) 0.06 (USD/kWh) 39
Natural gas 65 (m3) 0.35 (USD/m3) 23
Bauxite residue 1 10 10
Al2O3 0.17 400 68
Fe 0.285 300 86
TiO2 0.04 1500 60
Residue 0.29 10 3
Sc2O3 167E 06 4.20E+06 701
Other REEs 740E 06 16
Margin 1 – – 747
Margin 2 – – 396
Margin 1 is based on the Sc2O3 market price as on 23 February 2016, whereas Margin 2 is based on half that price.
2962 Borra, Blanpain, Pontikes, Binnemans, and Van Gerven

on a large-scale operation. The sulfation-roasting-

leaching process has several advantages, and there-
fore further studies are required to improve the
recovery of scandium. Finally, scandium recovery
from the bauxite residue is essential for any eco-
nomically viable process for recovering REEs and
metals from bauxite residue at the current metal
This work was supported by the DBOF grant from
KU Leuven to CRB and by the Research Platform
for the Advanced Recycling and Reuse of Rare
Earths (IOF-KP RARE3), funded by the Industrial
Research Fund of the KU Leuven.

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