Techno-economic and Life Cycle Analysis for Bioleaching Rare-Earth Elements from Waste Materials

Vicki S. Thompson, Mayank Gupta, Hongyue Jin, Ehsan Vahidi, Matthew Yim, Michael A. Jindra, Van Nguyen, Yoshiko Fujita, John W. Sutherland, Yongqin Jiao, David W. Reed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


A bioleaching process to extract rare-earth elements (REE) from fluidized catalytic cracking (FCC) catalysts was optimized using a heterotrophic bacterium Gluconobacter oxydans to produce organic acids from glucose. Parameters optimized included agitation intensity, oxygen levels, glucose concentrations, and nutrient additions. Biolixiviants from the optimized batch process demonstrated REE leaching efficiencies up to 56%. A continuous bioreactor system was subsequently developed to feed a leach process and demonstrated leaching efficiencies of 51%. A techno-economic analysis showed glucose to be the single largest expense for the bioleach process, constituting 44% of the total cost. The bioleaching plant described here was found profitable, although the margin was small. Lower cost carbon and energy sources for producing the biolixiviant, sourcing FCC catalysts with higher total REE content (>1.5% by mass), and improved leaching efficiencies would significantly increase the overall profit. A life cycle analysis showed that electricity and glucose required for the bioreactor had the largest potential for environmental impacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1602-1609
Number of pages8
JournalACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 5 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioleaching
  • End-of-life products
  • Life cycle analysis
  • Rare-earth elements
  • Techno-economic assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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