Antagonistic Role of Aqueous Complexation in the Solvent Extraction and Separation of Rare Earth Ions

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ACS Central Science





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Solvent extraction is used widely for chemical separations and environmental remediation. Although the kinetics and efficiency of this process rely upon the formation of ion-extractant complexes, it has proven challenging to identify the location of ion-extractant complexation within the solution and its impact on the separation. Here, we use tensiometry and X-ray scattering to characterize the surface of aqueous solutions of lanthanide chlorides and the water-soluble extractant bis(2-ethylhexyl) phosphoric acid (HDEHP), in the absence of a coexisting organic solvent. These studies restrict ion-extractant interactions to the aqueous phase and its liquid-vapor interface, allowing us to explore the consequences that one or the other is the location of ion-extractant complexation. Unexpectedly, we find that light lanthanides preferentially occupy the liquid-vapor interface. This contradicts our expectation that heavy lanthanides should have a higher interfacial density since they are preferentially extracted by HDEHP in solvent extraction processes. These results reveal the antagonistic role played by ion-extractant complexation within the aqueous phase and clarify the advantages of complexation at the interface. Extractants in common use are often soluble in water, in addition to their organic phase solubility, and similar effects to those described here are expected to be relevant to a variety of separations processes.

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Rare earth ions


Earth Sciences | Hormones, Hormone Substitutes, and Hormone Antagonists

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