Mining minerals and critical raw materials from bittern: Understanding metal ions fate in saltwork ponds
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ProjectSEArcularMINE - Circular Processing of Seawater Brines from Saltworks for Recovery of Valuable Raw Materials (EC-H2020-869467)
Seawater represents a potential resource for raw materials extraction. Although NaCl is the most representative mineral extracted other valuable compounds such as Mg, Li, Sr, Rb and B and elements at trace level (Cs, Co, In, Sc, Ga and Ge) are also contained in this “liquid mine”. Most of them are considered as Critical Raw Materials by the European Union. Solar saltworks, providing concentration factors of up-to 20 to 40, offer a perfect platform for the development of minerals and metal recovery schemes taking benefit of the concentration and purification achieved along the evaporation saltwork ponds. However, the geochemistry of these elements in this environment has not been yet thoroughly evaluated. Their knowledge could enable the deployment of technologies capable to achieve the recovery of valuable minerals. The high ionic strengths expected (0.5–7 mol/kg) and the chemical complexity of the solutions imply that only numerical geochemical codes, as PHREEQC, and the use of Pitzer model to estimate the activity coefficients of the different species in solution can be adopted to provide valuable description of the systems. In the present work, for the first time, PHREEQC Pitzer code database was extended to include the target minor and trace elements using Trapani saltworks (Sicily, Italy) as a case study system. The model was able to predict: i) the purity in halite and the major impurities contained, mainly Ca, Mg and sulphate species; ii) the fate of minor components as B, Sr, Cs, Co, Ge and Ga along the evaporation ponds. The results obtained pose a fundamental step in critical raw materials mining from seawater brine, for process intensification and combination with desalination.
CitationVicari, F. [et al.]. Mining minerals and critical raw materials from bittern: Understanding metal ions fate in saltwork ponds. "Science of the total environment", Novembre 2022, vol. 847, p. 157544.