LANTHANUM | From lighting up color TVs to recharging hybrid car
batteries, rare-earth metals like lanthanum have become essential in our
tech-driven world. But the inefficiencies and hazards of extracting these
bright, silvery metals have prompted Nien-Hwa Linda Wang to engineer a
more efficient, environmentally-friendly method.
In 2015, the Purdue Research Foundation filed a patent for Wang’s method
for producing high-purity rare earth elements. Crude mixtures of rare earth
elements are first separated from rare earth ores or coal ash. The mixtures
are then dissolved in a solution and separated into pure fractions using an
advanced chromatography method.
The new design produces double the current yield with purities greater than
95 percent. “This is very clean and very compact, and the impact on the
environment is much, much less,” says Wang, the Maxine Spencer Nichols
Professor in Chemical Engineering. “We use benign chemicals for this very
Reducing Our High-Tech Environmental Footprint