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Florida Polytechnic University researchers in Bartow earn grant for research on rare earth elements

Florida Poly FIPR
Posted at 4:51 AM, Feb 11, 2022

BARTOW, Fla. — Inside Florida Polytechnic University's Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute (FIPR) researchers are studying and extracting rare earth elements.

It's something we can't see with the naked eye but is found in things we use every single day.

But, China is the main supplier of the world's rare earth elements. So the team is working to see if they can extract rare earth elements from phosphate.

The team at FIPR gave our ABC Action News Crew a behind-the-scenes tour of how it all works.

Researchers are using byproducts from the nearby Mosaic Company to extract the elements that are used in things like computers, cell phones, solar panels and electric cars.

"Because if we can, if we could recover all the rare earth elements from facet processing, we can meet the entire U.S. demand for some of the critical elements," explained Dr. Patrick Zhang, FIPR’s Research Director for mining, mineral processing.

The process to identify the rare earth elements in each sample isn't simple either.

The sample, in very basic terms, is turned into a solution which means they have to filter and burn off acids.

Once all of this happens, it goes into a machine to collect data.

"Once we find out how much is in it, we report it back... here's what's in this material. And from that point on, they can decide what the next step is. And so basically what we're trying to do is when someone brings us a sample, as we tell them this is how much rare earths are in and usually NPPs," explained Aaron Medley, Lab Manager at FIPR.

The research team was just awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for Phase one of the project.

If awarded, Phase Two would be a $4 million grant to put all the work into action. Because phosphate mining is such a major industry in Central Florida, researchers hope they will be granted Phase Two.