Bridging Hydrometallurgy and Biochemistry: A Protein-Based Process for Recovery and Separation of Rare Earth Elements

Ziye Dong, Joseph A. Mattocks, Gauthier J.P. Deblonde, Dehong Hu, Yongqin Jiao, Joseph A. Cotruvo, Dan M. Park

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


The extraction and subsequent separation of individual rare earth elements (REEs) from REE-bearing feedstocks represent a challenging yet essential task for the growth and sustainability of renewable energy technologies. As an important step toward overcoming the technical and environmental limitations of current REE processing methods, we demonstrate a biobased, all-aqueous REE extraction and separation scheme using the REE-selective lanmodulin protein. Lanmodulin was conjugated onto porous support materials using thiol-maleimide chemistry to enable tandem REE purification and separation under flow-through conditions. Immobilized lanmodulin maintains the attractive properties of the soluble protein, including remarkable REE selectivity, the ability to bind REEs at low pH, and high stability over numerous low-pH adsorption/desorption cycles. We further demonstrate the ability of immobilized lanmodulin to achieve high-purity separation of the clean-energy-critical REE pair Nd/Dy and to transform a low-grade leachate (0.043 mol % REEs) into separate heavy and light REE fractions (88 mol % purity of total REEs) in a single column run while using ∼90% of the column capacity. This ability to achieve, for the first time, tandem extraction and grouped separation of REEs from very complex aqueous feedstock solutions without requiring organic solvents establishes this lanmodulin-based approach as an important advance for sustainable hydrometallurgy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1798-1808
Number of pages11
JournalACS Central Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 24 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering


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