Acid leaching recovery and occurrence modes of rare earth elements (REEs) from natural kaolinites

Bin Ji, Qi Li, Rick Honaker, Wencai Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Leaching recovery of rare earth elements (REEs) from two natural kaolinite samples were investigated in this study. Using standard leach conditions without pretreatment, only 10% and 56% of the total REEs were leached from the raw samples, respectively. However, pretreatment by calcination at temperatures between 500 °C and 900 °C increased the leaching recovery of total REEs to values as high as 93% for both samples. Mineralogical characterization and acid leaching results suggested that the decomposition of the kaolinite structure occurs as a function of calcination temperature. Comparisons between the REEs and the major constituent elements of kaolinite showed that their leaching characteristics contrasted. Moreover, sequential chemical extraction results suggested that the fractions of REEs occurring in an ion-adsorption form were negligible. Therefore, the REEs were primarily associated with REE-bearing minerals of which, a portion was encapsulated in kaolinite aggregates while the remaining existed as liberated particles. These association characteristics were proven through SEM-EDX analysis. Based on the mineralogy characterization, acid leaching, and sequential chemical extraction results, it was concluded that the REEs have complicated modes of occurrence and association characteristics with kaolinite. The positive impacts of calcination on the leaching recovery of REEs are likely due to two mechanisms, i.e., (1) liberation of the encapsulated REE-bearing minerals through expansion of the kaolinite aggregates, and (2) conversion of the REE-bearing minerals into more soluble forms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107278
JournalMinerals Engineering
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Acid leaching
  • Calcination
  • Kaolinite
  • Rare earth elements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • General Chemistry
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Mechanical Engineering


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