GéoMégA patent takes two hundred year old biochem routine to rare earths
After the excitement caused by the use of salmon sperm DNA in the extraction of rare earth elements in the media recently, there is a greater thrill to gain from the use of free flow electrophoresis (FFE) that needs watching.
What the FFE is this?
Let me explain. It is as much an understatement to say that separating REE is difficult as to say that Bill Clinton is fond of women. A myriad of very smart, very competent chemists who strive constantly at reducing Capex and Opex have studied the purification of REE though solvent extractions, ion exchange chromatography and Molecular Recognition Technology.
But in the race for disruptive innovation in the purification of REE GéoMégA (TSXV: GMA) is introducing electrophoresis as proven through remarkable patented technology.
And so biochemists, particularly those who work for GéoMégA, seek to become the dungeon masters of rare earth separation, a traditional domain of chemists. It’s like Cantonese and Mandarin languages: similar but vastly different.
Biochemists routinely use electrophoresis to separate molecules, a process that was invented when were still using whale oil to make candles. In 1807 by Ferdinand Frederic Reuss (Moscow State University) noticed that clay particles in water migrate when subjected to a constant electric field. We use this observation routinely in biochemistry. Remember the DNA fingerprints of criminals in CSI? These are the results of electrophoretic separation. A pretty high-heeled scientist in a crispy white lab coat ran DNA through a sheet of transparent gel: the smaller pieces of DNA move faster than the larger pieces of DNA. I’ve seen more of these gels to separate the proteins and DNA of trees and fungi than I care to remember.
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Electrophoretic separation of charged particles and ions has been conventionally performed in biotechnology to sequence proteins and cells. But rare earth elements in solution are ions. Basically, charged particles and ions migrate in the separation channel perpendicular to the flow under the effect of the electric field. The speed of migration depends on the electrophoretic mobility of the particles and ions, which varies based on charge and size.
GéoMégA is currently working toward scaling up its proprietary bench top REE separation at the ionic level, based on free flow electrophoresis (FFE). While the process has demonstrated potential to attain 100% purity and complete recovery of REE, uses less chemical/energy intensive technique compared to conventional approaches in the lab there is a need to scale up to show how its Capex and Opex compare to competing commercial technologies.
We shouldn’t try and read the future, and those who succeed at reading the future do so more as a result of luck rather than brilliance. But GéoMégA’s technology offers serious potential to an industry that is struggling to find solutions to a systemic problem across the rare earths industry. The company’s scale up results are worth watching.
Dr. Luc C. Duchesne is a Speaker and Author with a PhD in Biochemistry. With three decades of scientific and business experience, he has published ... <Read more about Dr. Luc Duchesne>