VIDEO: James McNiece: Master's Candidate in Mining Engineering

Posted on June 30, 2017

James McNiece is a Master's candidate in mining engineering here at Queen's. In his research, he's exploring ways to more efficiently extract cerium from ore for industrial applications. It's just one of the projects happening in the hydrometallurgical lab at the Robert M. Buchan Department of Mining at Queen's.

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    Video transcript:

    Hi, I'm James McNiece

    I'm completing a Master's of Applied Science under Ahmad Ghahreman at Queen's University.

    My area of study is cerium oxidation and and subsequent separation from other rare earth elements.

    The most interesting things that I've learned while researching cerium extraction is just how much we use cerium and many other rare earth metals in our lives and don't realize it.

    Cerium is really big in self-cleaning ovens.

    It is the metal that is a lighter flint or any sort of camping flint and it's also used as a fuel stabilizer in the metal in a catalytic converter.

    So, every catalytic converter contains about two pounds of cerium.

    Cerium is often found in high amounts relative to other, more valuable rare earth metals.

    And therefore, reducing the cost of separation is of interest to industry.

    So, what I'm attempting to do is find new low-cost ways to do this in acidic media.

    I do this by experimenting with selective precipitation reactions. So, I will try with various reagents at different concentrations, temperatures, and other conditions to determine the ideal reagent and the best conditions to achieve the most efficient separation of cerium from other rare earth metals.

    So, this is an example of one my selective precipitation reactions for cerium.

    What's happening in there is I have a cerium metal solution at a set concentration and I test with various oxidants to get a before-and-after of how effective and sample over time to derive kenetic values for these experiments.

    The purple colour you're seeing is caused by a low concentration of potassium permanganate left over from the reaction after the cerium has fully reacted and fallen out of solution.

    In rare earth metal separation, all the metals will be extracted in one solution with acid from the ore.

    Once the leach liquour, as it's referred to, goes to the subsequent plant processes, it's most efficient to separate the cerium first, as it is the largest fraction by mass, we would say, and therefore I'm trying to do this without separating other rare earth metals in a small scale. Then we can apply some scale-up factors and make a reasonable guess about what it would look like on a larger scale.