Design of Multi-Stage Solvent Extraction Process for Separation of Rare Earth Elements

Vaibhav Srivastava, Joshua Werner, Rick Honaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Flowsheet design and stage determination for the separation of rare earth elements (REEs) using solvent extraction (SX) is a challenging task because of the chemical similarity of the REEs. Low separation factors between the elements and complex equilibrium chemistry provide unique challenges to designing an efficient flowsheet for the separation of elements. The multi-stage nature of the SX process adds further complexity, making the assessment of products for a proposed design and stage combination difficult. Therefore, to develop a SX flowsheet, it is essential to quantify the performance for various design and separation conditions. This paper attempts to address the challenge by utilizing an equilibrium and process modeling approach. Results from a bench-scale study performed on a 10 g/L rare earth salt mixture were used in studying the extraction/stripping behavior and developing equilibrium models. DEHPA with TBP as a phase modifier was used as an extractant, while hydrochloric acid was utilized as a stripping agent. The results obtained were used in developing extraction/stripping models, which were integrated into a process framework of a SX train in a Matlab/Simulink environment. The models were programmed as a function block routine and used for developing a flowsheet, which was simulated for differing separation and design conditions. To identify optimum stage combinations, a particle swarm optimization (PSO) routine was developed and implemented for each SX train. Recovery and purity of elements of interest were used as objective function criteria. The stage combination leading to the minimization of the objective function was used to identify the optimum stage combination for a series of SX trains to attempt a balance of purity and recovery. The models and optimization method were implemented to separate a feed mixture containing REEs, which indicated that 99.52 and 85.41 percent purity is achievable for Yttrium and Lanthanum separation using 8-12-3 and 10-3-5 stage combination for loading, scrubbing, and striping. The model also indicated difficult separability between neodymium, praseodymium, and cerium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)552-578
Number of pages27
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


  • flowsheet design
  • particle swarm optimization
  • rare earth elements
  • solvent extraction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Geology
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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