Rare Earth Element Recovery
My thesis research focused on recovering rare earth elements from coal
combustion residuals, specifically coal fly ash. Existing methods to extract
rare earth elements from solids are chemical- and energy-intensive, and
their separation efficiency is low, meaning that even further processes are
required to separate each of the elements from each other. During my PhD,
I designed and optimized a more efficient and environmentally sustainable
This novel process has a few significant advantages. Most importantly, we
combined extraction of rare earths with separation from the bulk of the
coal ash. This eliminates the need for total solid digestion, and streamlines Coal ash under magnification
downstream processing, both of which are chemical- and energy-intensive.
Our key reagent, an ionic liquid, can be recycled and used multiple times
without loss in performance. Finally, our process involves mild operational
conditions, much lower chemical consumption, and less waste generation.
My advisor, Dr. Ching-Hua Huang, and I worked with Georgia Tech to file a provisional patent in 2019, and the utility patent in 2020.
Startup Formation and Customer Discovery
We completed the I-Corps South Sites program in the Fall of 2020 to investigate the commercial viability of the technology. This included economic analyses and ~50 interviews with various stakeholders, including utility company executives, chemical processing R&D firms, and local environmental officials.
Our funding to date has been largely research-based. This project has been funded by several scholarships including the US National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Fellowship ($138,000), the Georgia Power Fellowship ($18,397), and the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF) scholarship ($12,000), as well as funding support from a grant from EREF ($195,917). In May 2022, my advisor, Dr. Ching-Hua Huang, at Georgia Tech was awarded a $50k Phase 1 grant of a commercialization grant program.