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Materials Science Profiles of Progress: REE Extraction and Separation From Phosphoric Acid

The tech war between China and the United States over who will dominate the 21st Century Technology Age is heating up.

Earlier this week, China’s rare earth producers, who control the vast majority of global REE output, put out a statement declaring they are ready to “use their dominance of the industry as a weapon in the country’s year-long trade war with their customers in the United States.” 

Against the backdrop of these news, the recent announcement by a Florida startup regarding their successful extraction and separation of rare earth elements out of phosphoric acid becomes all the more meaningful and deserve a feature in our Materials Science Profiles of Progress series.

As part of this series, we highlight public-private partnerships that are fueling the materials science revolution which is transforming the ways in which we use and obtain metals and minerals and their work to develop practical solutions to critical minerals issues. 

Using a reusable nano-filtration system called Thor, Precision Periodic, a company based at the University of Central Florida’s Business Incubator Program, successfully extracted and separated REEs out of both phosphoric acid and the resulting waste.

Earlier in July, as part of a flurry of activity on the part of the U.S. government to spur domestic critical mineral — and especially REE — development, the Trump Administration in July took its own actions to respond to Chinese REE saber rattling and invoked the 69-year old Defense Production Act to spur domestic REE development.

We can expect to see more of these public-private partnerships take off as the 21st Century Tech Wars evolve.  The stakes are high, and resource supply dynamics are subject to enormous volatility, as the latest developments in the Cobalt realm show.

Hopefully our policy makers and other stakeholders will continue to press ahead with meaningful resource policy reforms.