EDITOR: | February 3rd, 2015 | 4 Comments

GéoMégA patent takes two hundred year old biochem routine to rare earths

| February 03, 2015 | 4 Comments
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FFE-questionAfter 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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Photo: Dr. Hajiani, Geomega CTO and the inventor of the physical separation process running tests at the company lab at NRCC facilities.

 

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 Duchesne

Editor:

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>


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Comments

  • • Rare Earth QuebecRare Earth Quebec

    […] Read here […]

    February 3, 2015 - 1:30 PM

  • Jack Lifton

    I have often visited Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park workshop-it’s been moved to Greenfield Village, Michigan, as a premier exhibit in that wonderful museum of Americana. I often look at the walls of the lab where bottles with “stuff” to be tested as filament material flow in a seemingly endless parade. I’m told that Edison’s men tried out more than 1000 materials before hitting upon carbonized bamboo as the most practical available. By 1879 when that discovery took place it had been more than 60 years since Sir Humphrey Davy had demonstrated the carbon arc “lamp” to the fellows of the Royal Society in London. And even as Edison’s team worked in their candle lit shop battleships of Britain’s Royal Navy swept the seas with DC arc lamps to illuminate targets for their massive guns.
    It was another 30 years before the American physical chemist, Irving Langmuir, working at the GE laboratories in Schenectady, NY, discovered a way to make tungsten wire that was ductile enough to be wound into a spiral (thus increasing the surface area over a fixed length) and thus was born the practical electric light bulb. Henry Ford built his first car in Detroit in a shed illuminated with kerosene lamps, but Langmuir’s brilliance (excuse the pun) led to that same Henry Ford adding electric lamps to his Model T’s by early in the second decade of the twentieth century. Between the demonstration of an incandescent electric lamp and its practical consumer version took 30 years!

    My point is this: Electrophoresis has been observed since 1807; it has been understood for at least 100 years and utilized in biology for separations as long as I have been working in science-53 years-or more. It is patently obvious that inorganic and organic rare earth materials should be able to be separated by electrophoresis. What is not obvious is whether or not this can be done on a “commercial” scale, and even if so, whether or not this would require any breakthroughs in technology-i.e., developments that are not generally obvious.
    I suspect that the Geomega researchers have come upon an organic complex that can carry rare earths differentially through their electrophoretic system. If such reagents can be recycled and made in large quantities economically then Geomega will be on to something that has wider application than just for separating the rare earths.
    Even if my guess as to their procedure is not right I have to say that I have seen a lot of impressive technology coming out of Quebec. Maybe its the mountain air there.

    February 3, 2015 - 1:43 PM

  • Dr Luc Duchesne

    Jack,

    I agree with your analysis. Like you I’m particularly excited that this process may have much greater applications than rare earths purification. If FFE can be scaled up to the commercial level, then there will be significant uptake elsewhere. Also I’m guessing that the current challenges are scale up engineering rather than fundamental issues. In other words, I think the theory has been worked out as demonstrated in the patent that was cited in my article.

    February 7, 2015 - 11:10 AM

  • Mr.Jimmy

    Second part of the story is GMA’s rich HREE deposit in Quebec (largest outside of China?) The Montviel deposit is open in all directions. Infrastructure in place, including work force,electrical and year round road access. Maybe Plan Nord will come into play once their PEA is announced,which should be shortly. The NPV should be a doozy……with or without the separation technology applied. Will be interesting to read your comments when it arrives Jack and Dr.Luc. Cheers

    February 7, 2015 - 5:45 PM

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