Protein-based approach for high-purity Sc, Y, and grouped lanthanide separation

Ziye Dong, Joseph A. Mattocks, Jeremy A. Seidel, Joseph A. Cotruvo, Dan M. Park

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Rare earth elements (REEs: Sc, Y, La- Lu) are irreplaceable components in many clean energy and consumer technologies. However, the extraction and subsequent separation of individual REEs from ore-based feedstocks remains a significant economic and environmental challenge. In this work, we investigated the intra-REE separation potential of lanmodulin (LanM), a natural protein from Methylorubrum extorquens that has emerged as a sustainable potential alternative to conventional solvent extraction-based separation. By determining the intra-REE selectivity of immobilized LanM and systematically testing pH-based and small chelator-based (i.e., citrate and malonate) desorption processes, we established the framework and methodology for achieving select individual and grouped REE separations from a mixed REE feedstock. We show that Sc forms the tightest complex with LanM among REEs but can be readily and selectively desorbed using malonate to generate high-purity Sc (>99 % purity, >99 % yield) in a single adsorption/desorption cycle. We further show that the intrinsic REE selectivity of LanM is sufficient to achieve heavy REE (HREE) separation from light and middle REEs (L-MREEs), yielding an yttrium-enriched product. This separation effect is further magnified by pairing LanM's unique M−LREE preference with a HREE-preferring chelator in the desorption process, which enriches HREE and MREE fractions relative to low value, abundant La/Ce. Finally, by combining pH- and citrate-based desorption processes in a two-cycle separation scheme, we demonstrate the generation of fractions highly enriched in Y, Gd-Lu, Pr-Eu, and La-Ce. Collectively, these data support the application of a LanM-based approach for achieving impactful REE separations from mixed REE feedstocks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number125919
JournalSeparation and Purification Technology
StatePublished - Apr 1 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Filtration and Separation

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