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Rare-earth leaching from Florida phosphate rock in wet-process phosphoric acid production

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2017, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 146-153

Liang, H.; Zhang, P.; Jin, Z.; DePaoli, D.



Phosphorite, or phosphate rock, is the most significant secondary rare-earth resource. It contains high amounts of phosphate-bearing minerals along with low contents of rare earth elements (REEs). In Florida, about 19 Mt of phosphate rock are mined annually and most are used to manufacture fertilizers using a wet process, in which sulfuric acid reacts with phosphates to produce phosphoric acid and phosphogypsum. In the wet process, REEs are also leached out into solution and eventually get lost in the leaching residue and phosphate fertilizer. Recovering REEs from Florida phosphate rock in the wet process will be beneficial to broadening rare-earth availability, improving the quality of phosphoric acid product and protecting the environment. 

This study focuses on the influences of wet-process operating conditions on REE leaching efficiency. The results indicate that REE leaching efficiency increases with phosphoric acid addition in the initial pulp. At a temperature of 75 °C, a stoichiometric ratio of sulfuric acid (H2 SO4 ) to calcium oxide (CaO) of 1.05 and a weight ratio of liquid to solid of 3.5, REE leaching efficiency reached a relatively high value of 52.82 percent. The trends of REE leaching efficiency were similar to those for phosphoric acid (P2O5 ). Extensive tests on the leaching residue showed that during leaching, about 90 percent of the REEs were released from the phosphate rock but only 52.82 percent ended up in the leaching solution. This phenomenon can be attributed to two factors: (1) the effect of phosphate ions (PO43−) in the solution, which caused REE ions to form REE phosphates and be precipitated into the leaching residue, and (2) the influence of large amounts of anions such as sulfate (SO42−), dihydrogen phosphate (H2 PO4−) and hydrogen phosphate (HPO42−) anions as well as the polar molecule H3 PO4 , which surrounded the REE cations and formed an ion atmosphere that prevented the PO43− from contacting and combining with REE cations. Interaction of these two opposite effects determined the REE distribution between leaching solution and residue.

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