Non-Equilibrium Transport Driven Separations (NETS) Initiative

V. Murugesan
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory,
United States

Keywords: rare earth materials, secondary resources, critical materials


Critical materials (CMs) are essential building blocks used in various modern technologies crucial for renewable energy development, national security, economic prosperity, and the infrastructure of the United States (U.S.). Efforts to establish new supply chains for CMs have driven research into utilizing domestic resources, including mine tailings, produced waters, and seawater. However, extracting CMs from these unconventional resources necessitates a novel separation paradigm capable of addressing numerous challenges, ranging from robust adaptability to the chemical complexity of feedstocks, to process scalability with minimal environmental impact and maximum economic potential. To tackle these challenges, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has initiated a new research effort, Non-Equilibrium Transport Driven Separations (NETS). This R&D initiative aims to design and assess a novel separation methodology that is devoid of adsorbents, membranes, and specialty chemicals, with the goal of establishing a robust domestic supply chain for CMs based on unconventional resources. NETS employs an innovative strategy to surpass the limitations of diffusion-based transport and reactivity. It achieves this by developing externally tunable stimuli (e.g., hydrodynamic fluid flow and static/dynamic electromagnetic fields) to create far-from-equilibrium conditions, serving as a driving force for separations. We will discuss our overarching vision, which is to facilitate a transformative approach to separations by advancing novel capabilities for CM recovery from unconventional resources.